Severe Flooding Puts Nearly a Quarter of the World At Risk

Severe Flooding Puts Nearly a Quarter of the World At Risk

According to a new study published in Nature Communications, flood risk and poverty are inextricably linked. Approximately 1.81 billion people -- nearly a quarter of the global population -- are at risk of experiencing a severe flood, while 1.24 billion of these most vulnerable reside in low- and middle-income countries, predominantly within South Asia and East Asia. Already, devastating floods have grown more severe and frequent across Bangladesh, India, and China. Researchers say that climate change, risky urbanization patterns along coastal areas, and a lack of access to resources (such as monetary support or flood defenses) exacerbate vulnerability.

CBC: Millions displaced as India, Bangladesh see worst flooding in decades, June 23, 2022.

Al Jazeera: Bangladesh floods | Millions stranded now face food shortages, June 22, 2022.

DW: Extreme weather, rising sea levels, devastating floods | The global climate crisis, October 5, 2021.

Why This Matters

Particularly in low-income countries, flooding can reverse years of efforts aimed at climate resiliency and poverty reduction. Impacts from flooding are only the beginning, as the most recent IPCC report states that the world can expect drastic increases in all kinds of extreme weather, including drought, heatwaves, and wildfires.

"By focusing too much on climate change, it really takes the responsibility, but also the agency, away to address these local drivers of disasters such as high poverty rates, missing infrastructure, investment, missing healthcare systems,” said Friederike Otto, author of another recent study on climate risk. Adding, "... the overestimation of climate change -- by basically blaming this all on climate change -- is not very helpful for actually dealing [with] and for actually improving resilience to these threats.”

The Guardian: Climate change is making floods worse - here's how, October 19, 2021.

CBS: Climate change could displace 200 million in 20 years, disaster relief organization warns, June 1, 2022.

CBS: New Report Provides Alarming Forecast For US Sea Level Rise, February 16, 2022.

A Focus on People

Economically, $9.8 trillion worth of economic activity is at risk of severe flooding, primarily in China ($3.3 trillion), the US ($1.1 trillion), and Japan ($700 billion). Yet researchers warn that focusing on economic vulnerabilities often diminishes the impact of flooding on poorer countries and the individual livelihoods within them.

Bangladesh, for example, is a relatively poor country, and its capital Dhaka is home to 22 million. Faced with a steady influx of climate migrants alongside a historically severe flood season, the low-lying, coastal city’s infrastructure is struggling to keep up. According to the Red Cross, seven million people across Bangladesh require aid after the “worst floods in memory.” However, securing “loss and damage” funding from wealthy countries has been a significant challenge.

"There was a lot of talk at COP26,” says Dhaka North Mayor Mohammad Atiqul Islam. "But I need solutions. I need climate justice."

Euronews: Loss and damage | How climate reparations are pitting the North against the South, June 1, 2022.

DW: This is just how unfair climate change is, May 21, 2021.

Robin Hood: "This is Loss and Damage - Who Pays" narrated by Mark Strong, September 23, 2021.

The Perfect Storm

Some of the world’s most flood-prone regions, like the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, are looking to preempt forced climate migration via a different solution -- managed retreat. Other cities, like Sydney, Australia, may follow suit. Following a slew of devastating floods that overwhelmed existing dams and reservoirs, many are concerned about the long-term sustainability of a city where disaster is now the “new normal.” Increasingly, investment in resiliency infrastructure may no longer be a socially or economically viable solution.

As climate change continues to widen the gap between the world’s richest and poorest countries, the world faces what UN Secretary-General António Guterres calls a “perfect storm” of crises. When it comes to cutting emissions and securing loss and damage funding, this divide is dangerous. In his words:

Inequalities are still growing inside countries, but they are now growing in a morally unacceptable way between north and south and this is creating a divide which can be very dangerous from the point of view of peace and security.

CBS: Climate change could displace 200 million in 20 years, disaster relief organization warns, June 1, 2022.

Bertelsmann Foundation: A Global Security Threat | Climate Change, February 28, 2022.

WW0: Facebook Live conversation on national security, climate migration and the climate crisis, September 9, 2020.