Wealthy countries face growing risk of flooding – study

© Cathal McNaughton
Although wealthy countries have more resources to defend against flooding, new research suggests that a combination of climate change and human activities are actually leaving richer nations with a rising flood risk.

The research, published in the journal Science on Thursday, stressed that although richer countries have better access to anti-flooding infrastructure – such as dams – climate change could increase the frequency and severity of floods and storms in such nations, leaving them struggling to defend themselves against Mother Nature.

But climate change isn't the only reason that wealthy nations may be facing an increased flood risk.

Man-made activities are also doing damage, according to the research. For example, as more land is used for agricultural production, erosion occurs and reduces natural protections against flooding.

The study suggests that cities built on river deltas are most at risk – particularly those on the Mississippi and the Rhine, which could both become up to eight times more at risk from rising tides, storm surges, or downstream floods.

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The research includes calculations of the potential challenges that could be faced by more than 340 million people in 48 major delta river communities across the globe.

The study noted that infrastructure is key to flooding prevention, advising wealthy countries to make wise investments now.

© Cathal McNaughton

"Economic ability and decisions to deploy engineering solutions will be key factors in determining how sustainable deltas become in the long term," the study said.

However, the research did note that despite rising risks to certain wealthy nations, poorer countries are ultimately still more vulnerable to flooding.

Meanwhile, a Thursday Science editorial by researchers Stijn Temmerman of the University of Antwerp and Matthew Kirwan from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science said that coastal communities need to implement strategies to mitigate flood risks.

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Using New Orleans and coastal Louisiana as a model, they said that building or preventing the loss of more than 500,000 hectares of wetlands could reduce yearly flooding damage by $5.3 billion to $18 billion over the course of 50 years.

Recently published data estimates that by 2050, if the sea level continues to rise at its current rate, more frequent flooding could cost up to $1 trillion a year – causing major damage to the 136 largest coastal cities in the world.