New technology can combat floods in emerging markets | OilPrice.com

New technology can combat floods in emerging markets | OilPrice.com

As climate change causes sea levels to rise to unprecedented levels, governments and citizens in vulnerable countries are looking for innovative ways to predict, prevent, adapt, and insure against floods.

Floods in West and Central Africa in the past two weeks have displaced more than 3.4 million people, according to the United Nations refugee agency, and were punctuated by the worst floods in Nigeria in a decade, which killed hundreds and affected 2.8 million.

Severe flooding has killed more than 1,300 people in Pakistan since June, and is now threatening to create a food crisis.

Floods are set to become more common going forward. A United Nations report released last week found that the planet is on course to warm between 2.1°C and 2.9°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century despite government measures to combat climate change.

Weak coastal megacities

As the world is unable to tackle climate change in the short and medium term, countries must find urgent solutions to mitigate the devastating effects of severe floods.

More than 1.8 billion people – nearly 23% of the world’s population – are at high risk of flooding. More than 1.2 billion of these are found in South and East Asia, including 395 million in China and 390 million in India. Of the 170 million people at high risk of flooding and extreme poverty, 44% live in sub-Saharan Africa.

These large numbers reflect the simultaneous rise in sea levels and urbanization, making those who live in mega coastal cities among the most vulnerable.

Conventional engineering solutions such as flood walls and bridges help but may be insufficient if drains or floodplains are nonexistent, aging or clogged. In Nigeria, for example, government officials say structures built along drains contributed to the severity of flooding in Lagos.

One approach is so-called sponge cities, which seek to develop and work with nature to absorb, clean and use excess water during severe floods. For example, the Chinese port city of Ningbo has turned 3 kilometers of previously developed land that fell into deserted into an ecological corridor and a public park.

Creating more sustainable ecosystems at sea is another approach to counteracting rising waters during severe storms. Some countries in southern and eastern Africa are seeking to build the so-called Great Blue Wall to protect coastal and marine areas stretching from Somalia to South Africa in the Indian Ocean.

Forecasting techniques

Technology plays a profound role in helping countries predict floods and warn residents of danger.

With an estimate that 20% of the country is at risk of flooding, Malaysia has become a world leader in the deployment of forecasting and monitoring technologies.

By the end of 2022, the Malaysian Ministry of Irrigation and Drainage (DID) will launch its national flood forecasting and warning system, which was developed with British engineering consultancy HR Wallingford.

The system collects data from 700 monitoring gauges spread across the country — often placed in challenging terrain — to create simulations and models that can better prepare residents and officials.

Drones are increasingly being used to record accurate image data that planners can use to prevent and predict floods and assess damage afterward.

The Malaysian Space Agency is using drones and two satellites – a third is due to launch in 2025 – to identify areas prone to flooding before the rainy season begins. The agency’s integrated disaster management system and satellite imagery-based information and logistics system known as eBanjir directly assists DID with flood management initiatives.

Similarly, Brazil makes use of data through the Waterproofing Data mobile application, which was developed locally in March 2022 in collaboration with researchers from Germany and the United Kingdom.

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The app allows community members to become citizen scientists by recording rainfall and flood impact assessments that can be used to plan or prevent dangerous floods. The app is currently in use in 20 municipalities, and the research team behind the platform is seeking to roll it out to other countries around the world.

Using larger amounts of high-quality data means AI can help predict when floods will occur, enabling the creation of more targeted flood-resistant infrastructure. For example, researchers at Stanford University in the US are using machine learning to track atmospheric patterns and predict when precipitation will trigger flooding.

Flood proof food

In addition to uprooting people, floods threaten food security in the short term by destroying infrastructure, agricultural land, and livestock, and damaging water and sanitation resources in the following months.

To counter this, growing more resilient crops can help smallholder farmers who have lost an estimated $21 billion in agricultural products and livestock to floods over the past decade, second only to drought.

Researchers are using genetic tools to breed the gene responsible for flood tolerance called Sub1. Using the resulting flood-resistant rice, which yielded 60% more rice than standard varieties in a controlled trial, could go a long way toward reducing the 4 million tons of rice lost to floods each year.

Over the past decade, farmers in the Philippines have widely adopted Submarino rice, a string that does not die when submerged under water for up to 14 days.

Other subsistence farmers resort to the ancient practice of using floating farms to secure their crop yields amid rising sea levels.

More than 6,000 farmers in the delta of southwest Bangladesh — which are already under water for eight to 10 months a year, up from five months a year nearly 200 years ago — use the practice of growing fruit and vegetables on rafts made of gas lilies.

Farmers in Mexico have also revived the use of Chinanambas (Farm Islands) – Long, narrow strips of land over shallow lakes near Mexico City anchored to the lake bed with a native willow tree – to meet agricultural demand when traditional markets are closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Developed by the Aztecs more than 700 years ago, chinampas are very fertile farming fields that accommodate a range of produce, from fruits and vegetables to eggs and honey. They have the added benefit of having their water needs met directly from the lakes themselves.

By Oxford Business Group

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