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A greener touch in China's cities can stem flood risks - World Bank

by Dongwei Liu | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 16 February 2012 12:19 GMT

World Bank releases guide on flood-risk management for cities in the East Asian and Pacific regions

p>BEIJING (AlertNet) – China can better protect its fast-growing cities from inundations by making flood-risk maps available to both city planners and the public, and by giving its cities a greener touch, according to a World Bank expert in urban environments.

China’s urban population currently stands at 690 million – accounting for just over half of the country’s total population – and is expected to rise to 1 billion by 2030. Some of the country’s big cities, such as Beijing, Wuhan and Guangzhou, last year experienced severe rain storms that paralysed transportation, cut off roads and bridges and inundated the subway system.

“The first and most important strategy (for Chinese cities) is developing flood-risk maps and (making) them available to urban planners, private investors and the public in general so the risks are known, and (guiding) planning and investments in urban areas,” Paul Procee, senior urban environment specialist of the World Bank’s Beijing office, told AlertNet.

“Cities should consider keeping green space, wetlands and natural ecosystems to reduce (flood) risks,” Procee added. “Innovative approaches with more porous material, asphalt for example, can assist in more natural infiltration of rainwater.”

But it is also a matter of integrating approaches to managing flood risks, the World Bank said in a guide it released this week on flood-risk management for cities in the East Asian and Pacific regions.

The guide said this integrated approach consisted of combining both “structural” measures such as hard engineering to control the flow of water, and “non-structural” measures to protect the environment and keep people away from floods through good city planning and management.

“Integrated approaches that combine infrastructure investments to protect people and assets from floods and planning and policies that protect floodplains and high-risk areas from development and investments will be effective in the long run.” Procee said.

“The main issue is careful (city) planning to avoid development in high-risk zones or natural floodplains.”

Floods affected 89.4 million people in China in 2011, killing 519, while 121 people went  missing and direct economic losses amounted to 130 billion yuan,  Zhang Zhitong, deputy vice director of the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters, said in a 2011 annual working report .

“Heavy investments in infrastructure (roads, buildings or concrete structures) reduce natural infiltration of water and increase run-off and flood risks,” Procee said.

“…the developing of a more mature insurance industry that would provide differentiated premiums would help guide development and ensure private investors stay away from high-risk zones.”

According to the World Bank guide, structural measures such as better drainage or those suggested by Procee can be highly effective when used appropriately. However, many structural measures can transfer flood risks from one location to another. Therefore, the key to combating flood risks is getting the balance between structural and non-structural measures right, the guide said.

Alerting local communities to floods and helping them prepare for inundations is also important, according to the guide.

“By enabling communities to organise themselves and linking them with local decision-making mechanisms, the continuity of flood-risk management initiatives can be maintained,” it said.

(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)

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