President's Blog

15 Sep 2017 14:11 Age: 2 yrs

President's Blog: Floods are the new normal

Category: ISWA News, ISWA BLOG


Following the recent floods in North America and South Asia, Antonis Mavropoulos considers whether this is a one-off, or whether such extreme weather is here to stay.

It dumped an estimated 100 billions m3 of rain over Texas and Louisiana during a 6-day period. At least 70 people died due to its devastating impact. It created estimated losses of US $ 70-75 billions. It flooded or seriously damaged at least 13 toxic waste sites in Texas, according to the US EPA. It created heaps of ruined possessions that now line entire neighbourhoods, almost reaching the rooftops of the homes that were swamped. In Houston alone, an estimated 6 million m3 rain fell, enough to fill up the Texans stadium twice over. Texas disclosed about $136 million in federal funds to pay for the initial clean-up efforts around Houston. Hurricane Harvey, and the recent hurricane Irma too, were broadly discussed and their impacts are measured in details, but these are hardly the biggest problems. 


In Bangladesh, India and Nepal, at least 1500 people have died and close to 50 million have been left homeless by this year’s monsoon floods. Recent torrential rains caused a mudslide that killed over 1000 people in Sierra Leone. 


Floods, as a result of on-going climate change, are becoming the new normal! Scientists have estimated that three times as many people in 2010 are living in houses threatened by hurricanes than in 1970. Munich Re, a re-insurer, calculated that the number of storms and floods has increased from 200 (in 1980) to 600 in 2016! The UN considers that from 1995 to 2015 storms and floods have caused at least US $ 1.7 trillion of damages. The World Health Organization estimates that the global annual cost of hurricane damages is rising 6% per year in real terms! In the EU, floods are expected to become five times more frequent by 2050. 


It’s time to consider integrated adaptation strategies for the current and the future waste management systems. This task deserves more attention by urban planners and decision makers as well as international organizations, for many reasons.


First of all, current urban waste management systems are proven to be vulnerable on a daily basis. Search the Web just a little bit and you will find lots of landfill floods and collapses due to hurricanes or extensive rainfall, collection systems collapsed or blocked for a certain period due to floods.


Second, it seems that the most vulnerable waste management systems are the ones that happen to be in growing and transitioning megacities. In those urban areas, the environmental and health risks from a potential disaster related to waste management are high and under certain conditions they might be proven more than local ones.  


Third, even in developed and mature megacities, where infrastructure is in place, the collection systems remain vulnerable, facilities must be examined for their resilience under the new weather patterns and we still have the problem of new and old landfills. 


In addition to an intensified implementation of effective climate change mitigation measures, it’s time to work urgently for the adaptation of our waste management systems. We need to face urban waste management as a system and assess the specific region – city – site vulnerability of it.  We need to find a way to include the Low Probability – High Impacts events in the designing principles and procedures. Appropriate risk assessment procedures should be developed for that purpose.  We need a road map to assess the adaptive capacity of urban waste management systems and to frame them within the overall city adaptation strategy. It’s time to deliver…