Human Settlements in Flood Zones

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Human Settlements in Flood Zones

A recent study, led by a World Bank economist, has revealed that human settlements in some of the world’s riskiest flood zones have increased by a staggering 122% since 1985, contributing to the vulnerability of millions to water disasters induced by climate change. And, this growth is predominantly observed in middle- and low-income countries. On the other hand, the most secure regions experienced an 80% increase in growth in human settlements. The study analysed 30 years of satellite imagery tracking the expansion of human settlement globally, along with flood maps.
The study found that by 2015, 20% of all settlement areas were in zones with medium or higher flood risks, up from 17.9% three decades earlier. The percentage rise might not seem substantial, but it represents an enormous area because of how quickly human settlement has expanded globally since 1985.
Major Takeaways
Global Landscape of Settlement Expansion
§ Most countries, especially in East Asia, saw more settlements in regular flood zones and ultra-high flood zones than in dry areas.
§ Libya, which suffered from devastating flooding in September 2023, had an 83% increase in settlement extent in the worst flood zones.
§ Pakistan, experiencing catastrophic flooding both in 2022 and 2023, witnessed an 89% increase in settlements in prone areas.
Notable Exceptions
§ Dry settlements in the United States increased by 76%, while the highest flood settlements rose by only 46%.
§ Other countries with more dry settlements than ultra-wet areas include India, France, Sweden, Austria, Finland, Japan and Canada.
Possible Factors behind Increasing Human Settlements
§ Rural to Urban Migration: As countries experience economic growth, urbanization near waterways becomes prevalent. Settlements often expand into flood-prone areas as cities grow.
o For Example: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, exemplifies this issue, growing from a fishing village to over seven million people.
§ Economic Factor: Low-income populations often cannot afford to live in safer, less flood-prone areas. They might be forced to live in flood-prone zones because of housing affordability constraints.
§ Lack of Regulatory Enforcement: In some countries, land-use planning and zoning regulations might not be effectively enforced. This can result in settlements proliferating in flood-prone areas without adequate safeguards.
§ Cultural and Historical Ties: Some communities have deep cultural or historical connections to flood-prone regions, and this can influence their decisions to remain or settle in these areas despite the risks.
§ Tourism and Recreation: Coastal and riverfront areas, despite their vulnerability to flooding, continue to draw tourists and recreation enthusiasts because of their inherent appeal.
o The demand for resorts, hotels and vacation homes can lead to settlement in these areas, even if it’s only seasonal.
o This can lead to decisions that are more focused on short-term survival.
Way Forward
§ Strict Land Use Policies: Implement and enforce stringent land-use regulations that prohibit or restrict new construction in high-risk flood zones.
o Designate flood-prone areas as ‘no-build’ zones and enforce these restrictions consistently.
§ Infrastructure Investment: There is a need to Invest in resilient infrastructure, including better flood defences, early warning systems and floodplain mapping.
o Improve drainage systems to mitigate the impact of flooding in existing settlements.
§ Government Support and Relocation Assistance: The government can offer financial incentives for residents to relocate from flood-prone areas to safer zones.
o Also, the government needs to strengthen emergency response and preparedness measures in flood-prone areas to minimize the loss of life and property during flood events.
§ Public Awareness and Education: Launch public awareness campaigns to educate citizens about the risks associated with living in flood-prone areas.
o Promote community-based education programs on flood preparedness and the importance of avoiding such areas.
What should Pakistan do?
§ As one of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, a heightened risk of flooding will likely be a part of our lives for the foreseeable future.
o While a repeat of the 2022 catastrophic flooding seems unfathomable, it cannot entirely be ruled out as the pace of climate change is not slowing down.
§ Pakistan’s risk of catastrophic flooding is likely to grow and we cannot afford to ignore the risks irresponsible human expansion into flood zones might pose for our people.
§ Pakistan is urbanizing at a rapid rate, with reports stating that the urban population grew by 76 percent between 2017 and 1998.
o This urbanization has come in the form of an elongated urban sprawl, with cities expanding ever outwards.
§ The smarter thing to do would have been to implement policies that prioritize vertical developments, allowing more people to settle in a more concentrated area.
§ A shift in our urban development policies will, thus, be crucial to keep people safe.
§ There is also a heightened need for greater investment in flood-protection and detection systems.

Muhammad Ali Asghar

This is the Admin of this website

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