We Need to Act Now to Protect our Communities From the Devastating Effects of Flooding

08/12/2011 11:40 GMT | Updated 07/02/2012 10:12 GMT

This week the seventh UN Climate Convention in Durban comes to a close, where the world's leading experts have been discussing global warming and how the destructive effects can be combatted. Ahead of the conference, a UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was released, concluding that climate change will make drought and flooding events more frequent in years to come, forcing nations to rethink the way they cope with disasters. On the eve of the Convention, flooding caused eight deaths in Durban itself, highlighting the devastating human cost of such unpredictable forces of nature. Frank Kelly, Managing Director of Global Flood Defence Systems considers where the responsibility lies for managing flood defence, and what protective measures are available.

Recent catastrophic global flooding disasters in Thailand and Pakistan have demonstrated that it is often the least developed nations that suffer the most from such disasters. However, it is not just the residents of these countries who are affected; global businesses operating in these countries inevitably experience a knock-on effect, and as such have a responsibility to their customers, and more importantly, their staff.

The recent floods in Bangkok have had a significant effect on the global supply chain, with companies that specialise in car and computer manufacturing, such as Toyota, Ford, Sony and Apple unable to operate their factories to full capacity. Retailers including H&M and Primark have blamed falling profits on the rising cost of cotton, partly due to floods in Pakistan. This is in addition to global companies still reeling from the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan earlier this year, particularly in the car manufacture and electronics sectors.

There is no doubt that flooding is going to increase, but rather than burying their head in the sand, there are proactive steps that businesses and governments can take to protect properties and communities in advance, instead of cleaning up the mess afterwards.

Take passive flood defences for example; flood water causes them to deploy so there is no need for any human intervention and therefore no chance of human casualties when flooding strikes. Furthermore, they don't have a negative aesthetic impact on the environment; in many cases they are installed in the ground, rendering them effectively invisible until they're operational. Passive solutions were recently deployed at the Lourdes Hospital in Binghamton, New York State, when the banks of the Susquehanna overflowed, ensuring no patients had to be evacuated.

The IPCC Report was compiled over two years by 220 scientists and is the first comprehensive examination of scientific knowledge on the subject of climate change. It gave us a stark warning that we need to develop our infrastructure to handle future extreme weather events, including flooding: the report specifically referenced an increase in frequency of heavy rainfalls, which can lead to flash flooding. In the UK, flash floods are the most likely cause of flood-related insurance claims, and can happen to anyone, not just those near rivers or the coast.

There is a collective responsibility to cope with this increased threat. The UN Convention of Climate Change is an opportunity for the world's governments to act to protect lives and economic assets.

Governments need to address budgets for coping with extreme weather events as well as amending planning policies to minimise the number of new properties built in flood-risk areas. The insurance sector should be lobbied to ensure flooding is covered in policies and housing developers need to safeguard new housing developments from flood risk by fitting new properties with products such as airbrick replacements and back flow valves.

Businesses have a responsibility to protect their staff in flood-prone regions, and also safeguard their assets so profits are not needlessly lost due to extreme weather events. In addition, individuals need to take some responsibility - flooding can affect anyone, and there are simple measures to take to ensure your home and belongings are safe from this uncertain future.