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Currently showing: Climate/natural disasters

07 Nov 13 10:39

A recent story in the BBC news ( caught my eye and for a number of reasons I found it encouraging, not least because it talks about the role of wetlands in absorbing flood waters and thus playing an extremely important role in mitigating floods and the huge amount of damage that can be caused by those same floods. Did you know that larger undisturbed wetlands can potentially store 60 days of floodwater? (Source: EPA: I've just quoted a rather extreme example of the Mississippi but it still illustrates the role wetlands can play.

Wetlands are the ultimate in multifunctional ecosystems, but they are underrated, underappreciated and their economic and ecological benefits have long been overlooked by broader society. Worldwide they've been drained and modified to yield wonderfully productive farmland and attractive coastal development areas. Let's be clear though, these productive farmland and attractive coastal development areas are inherently at risk. They are still exposed to the water that has flowed in and out in varying extremes for an age. And without the buffer that these spongey wetlands provide, the broader surrounding areas are also dangerously exposed.

There are many directions that I could take this blog post, talking about the habitat that wetlands provide and the richness of biodiversity they support or the incredible water filtering function they perform. But I will stay with the following three points:

1) Where and how people choose to build and farm is a big driver of the amount of damage inflicted by natural disasters. We can be much wiser with land use planning and building codes and help ourselves in this way. This point was also emphasised recently at Swiss Re's 150Y anniversary event in New York, by Karen Clark, our invited expert on 'Managing climate and natural disaster risk' (check out the output of the fascinating discussions that took place here:

2) In order to live with natural catastrophes (we must!) like floods, restoring, recreating and leaving existing wetland areas to 'do their thing' could easily be part of a multi-pronged strategy to manage risk - with multiple additional benefits as a knock on effect.

3) The economic benefits of wetlands to society are massive. Scientists and economists have been struggling with naming a figure for years and years with wildly differing results. For that reason I won't quote figures here - but if you add up what's not being spent on flood disaster recovery and damage + added fish stocks from all the fish that had a place to breed + cleansing water of sediments and nutrients from fertilisers and sewage + recreational areas available for all sorts of activities + ...the list goes on..... you get to a very big figure.

So there you have it. Wetlands - wow. Should they be one way society manages the flood risk with which it's faced? I say yes. Should we be looking at multiple ways to manage and live with risks so that we ensure resilient societies? Yes again.

Coastal retreat plan to curb floods

Category: Climate/natural disasters

Location: United Kingdom


ClimateGroup - 8 Nov 2013, 1:55 p.m.

Interesting blog post! One of our government members, Wales, is actually doing something about wetlands flood risks - or the group Natural Resources Wales is just finished restoring a rare wetland habitat on the the Llyn Peninsula is. The project re-connected the lime-rich spring water to the marshland, to stop it from draining away quickly down the old drainage systems. With the water kept in the ground for up to a week, it will help to reduce rising water levels in the River Afon Geirch, which has various levels of high flood risks to homes and businesses. The water will also improve the local environment by attracting local animals and insects to continue living there. It is a global issue, but we can learn from the small scale activities of local governments and charities to find models which we can scale up across regions and countries.

Jennifer Rodney - 8 Nov 2013, 2:18 p.m.

Thanks for sharing this example - I love stories about local solutions like this! Do you know if this is a pilot programme or are there similar projects going on elsewhere in Wales?

Alicia Montoya - 9 Nov 2013, 5:12 p.m.

The following NYT article stresses that although there is no silver bullet and each region's needs vary, wetlands are an important part of the solution, especially in areas where there are dozens of miles of them, as there are around New Orleans and in other parts of the Gulf Coast.

In more built up areas like NYC, it looks like a hybrid approach involving of natural solutions (like salt marshes and oyster reefs) and engineered berms could make for a powerful combo. At least, that was the conclusion of the ten design teams involved in Rebuild By Design competition, an initiative of the President’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. The competition asks the world’s most talented design professionals to envision solutions that increase resilience across the Sandy-affected region.

On Oct 28, the day before the first anniversary of the storm, the teams presented their ideas to make the region more resilient in the face of future storms and climate change. Check out the projects.. and vote for the ones you think would work best!

Jayne Plunkett - 12 Nov 2013, 7:54 a.m.

Ocean resilience is key to reinsurers. Mitigating the worst effects of typhoons and storms can make a big difference to the costs of natcats. In this WEF 2013 video with National Geographic Explorer in residence Enric Sala, we explore why wetlands and other natural barriers are needed, and the great benefits of fish banks. Fish banks create jobs & revenue, build coastal resilience, protect biodiversity and replenish fish stocks! It's a win, win, win, win!

Patrick Reichenmiller - 13 Nov 2013, 7:51 a.m.

Very interesting, thanks Gillian. Indeed it's fascinating just how much potential the natural environment offers for adaptation, disaster planning and risk management more generally. As part of the Resilience Action Initiative, Swiss Re and a number of industry leaders produced a compilation of "green infrastructure" case studies earlier this year. It shows the wide-ranging benefits of using natural habitats to manage various risks, from flooding and business interruption due to mechanical failures or power outages to raw material price fluctuations. Just amazing when you think about it:

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