Climate Change Evidence As Severe Floods Hit China, France & Brazil
All in one week, severe flooding is devastating part of Brazil, China and France. Ernst Rauch, Head of Munich Re’s Corporate Climate Centre says “we expect climate change to increase the incidence of flooding of this type in the long term”. United Nations says it’s true: “Millions of people are already experiencing the impact of climate change, as extreme weather conditions trigger more frequent floods, droughts, forest fires, and catastrophic storms”.
AFP reports (22June 2010):
More than 1,000 people are missing in north-eastern Brazil after days of heavy rain and flooding.
The floods have killed at least 32 people and left about 100,000 people homeless, and there are fears the death toll could skyrocket.
The north-eastern state of Alagoas has been the hardest hit.
“Up until the early afternoon we had 22 confirmed dead in Alagoas (state) and more than 1,000 people missing,” governor Teotonio Vilela Filho was quoted as saying by the official Agencia Brasil news agency.
“We are praying for the missing to be found alive. But we are very worried because bodies are starting to turn up on beaches and on riverbanks.”
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the government would make federal funds available to help the homeless.
The president has met with local governors to work on details of the relief efforts.
China (Reuters) – A flood-battered dyke in China suffered a fresh breach on Wednesday as heavy flooding that has killed nearly 200 people in the past week intensified and about 100,000 residents fled after an earlier break in its wall.
The Fu River in Jiangxi province first burst through the protective Changkai Dyke late on Monday, after days of torrential rain, threatening areas near the small city of Fuzhou.
The river punched through the embankment again early on Wednesday, the official Xinhua news agency said. Residents whose homes were threatened had already been evacuated at night.
Troops in orange vests were using boats to search for stranded residents and take them to safety.
“We did not want to leave, but they said there would be more heavy rain in the coming few days, so we decided to bring the children out,” said Xiong Feijie, 31, who had been living on the upper floor of her home in Changkai town for the last two days.
Soldiers, civil militia and police were concentrating their efforts in towns like Changkai on rescuing the elderly, children and pregnant women, and taking evacuees to a stadium in Fuzhou.
“We were lacking rescue equipment the past few days, so they have been sending us more boats today and we’ve stepped up rescue work,” said rescuer Cui Suilai.
In some areas, the flood waters were up to chest level, inundating the ground floors of homes, shops and restaurants.
Heavy rain across much of southern China over the last week has killed at least 199 people and left 123 missing, as rivers broke their banks and landslides severed road and rail links, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said.
More than 2.38 million people have been evacuated, although many are moved only short distances.
The floods have caused economic losses of around 42.12 billion yuan ($6.2 billion), with more than 1.6 million hectares of farmland flooded and about 195,000 houses collapsing.
Munich Re reports:
Torrential rain has caused severe flooding in Provence, southern France. In the town of Draguignan, entire streets were submerged, cars were swept away and houses collapsed.
Ernst Rauch, Head of Munich Re’s Corporate Climate Centre: “In principle, anyone can be affected by flash floods following extreme rainfall, even those who live well away from a major river. We expect climate change to increase the incidence of flooding of this type in the long term”.
Flash flood losses can occur almost anywhere and are generally insurable.
Interview with Dr. Wolfgang Kron, Munich Re’s Head of Research for Hydrological Hazards
Dr. Kron, what makes flash floods so unpredictable and dangerous?
River flooding occurs when there is heavy rain over a large area, the rain converges in the main river and thus builds up a flood wave over a period of several days. Flash floods are entirely different. What counts here is not the amount of rain but its intensity, for example in the case of local storms. The total amount of rainfall in these cases is secondary. Within a short period of time, a stream can turn into a raging torrent or flat terrain become completely submerged. Flash floods are sudden and over quickly, usually after just a few hours.
How frequently do such events occur?
Since 1980, Munich Re has systematically documented events and processed this information so that it can be used for statistical analyses. Our research has revealed that storms resulting in floods occur much more frequently than “classic” cases of river flooding, and are likely to increase even more in the future. Typically, floods from local storms usually produce losses ranging from thousands to hundreds of thousands of euros, sometimes even in the millions. As there are literally hundreds of these events every year in Germany alone, we believe that, over a longer period of time, the large number of smaller losses from flash floods are pretty much on a par with the million-euro losses from river flooding.
For example, in June 2008, after extreme rainfall, a small stream in the Killertal in Baden-Württemberg, tore through the village of Jungingen, destroying houses and carrying off cars (in one of which two women drowned) and flooded parts of the nearby town of Hechingen, located at the foot of the Hohenzollern castle. Losses here totaled nearly €100m.
Would structural measures help combat flash flooding?
Only in certain circumstances. With river flooding, we know where the danger comes from and can build a dyke to protect ourselves. A flash flood can occur anywhere. I know an inn near Munich located at the top of a hill and it still suffered flood damage. Protection against incoming water is possible by building the ground floor a foot or so above ground level. In older buildings it is possible to seal basement windows. Generally speaking, you should try and ensure that all paved areas slope downwards away from the house so they can carry away water as easily as possible. However, even this will not guarantee you escape unscathed.
That raises the question of the most effective form of risk reduction?
This involves a whole range of measures. In terms of construction, do what you can afford. Also, do not store valuable objects or items vulnerable to water in the cellar, ask yourself whether you really need to have a carpet or parquet flooring in the basement. You must realise that you are never 100% safe from flooding. And then of course insurance. There is no way round that.
To what do you attribute the lack of risk awareness regarding flash floods?
If you live a long way from any water, the flood risk is not necessarily the first thing that springs to mind. Most people will rarely, if ever, face flood damage. But then it does hit some people and that spells disaster for them. We need to inform and convince people. So as not to reduce people’s willingness to take their own precautionary measures, it is important that suitable deductibles are agreed. This means that small claims with their relatively high administrative costs are eliminated. In this respect, I also suggest a no-claims bonus. For example, ten claims free years result in an annual deductible reduction of 20% from the eleventh year onwards.