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Urban flood controls must be regional priority: World Bank

Feb 13. 2012
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By Pongphon Sarnsamak
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The World Bank yesterday urged governments in Asia-Pacific, including Thailand, to make flood-risk management a regular part of city and town planning, saying urban flooding has become a serious and growing development challenge for fast-growing low and m


“Urban expansion often creates poorer neighbourhoods which lack adequate infrastructure and services, making them more vulnerable to floods,” said Pamela Cox, the World Bank’s vice president for East Asia and the Pacific.
She was speaking at a press conference to launch the bank’s practical guide to reducing losses from flooding, titled “Cities and Flooding: A Guide to Integrate Urban Flood Risk Management for the 21st Century”. The guide provides operational guidance on how to manage flood risk in the face of urbanisation.
“Rapid urbanisation also means we have the opportunity to do things right the first time,” she said via teleconference from Tokyo.
According to the World Bank, floods are the most frequently occurring form of natural disaster in East Asia, South Asia and the Pacific. In the past 30 years, about 40 per cent of flooding world-wide occurred in Asia. More than 90 per cent of the global population exposed to flooding lives in Asia. 
Meanwhile, the urban population of East Asia will have doubled from the 1994 level by 2025, Cox said. The fastest rates of urbanisation are taking place in China and Southeast Asia, with cities in this region expanding at rates five times faster than those in the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation. 
Urban flooding is becoming more costly and more difficult to manage as low and middle-income countries in the region transition to largely urban societies, with greater concentration of people and assets in cities and towns. Losses can reach beyond the edge of actual floodwaters, as the impact on industrial supply chains during the 2011 floods in Thailand demonstrated. 
Citing the guidelines, World Bank environmental specialist Waraporn Hirunwatsiri said that the most effective way to manage flood risk is to take an integrated approach that combines both structural and non-structural measures.
This includes building drainage channels and floodways, urban greening such as wetlands and environmental buffers, creating flood-warning systems, and land-use planing for flood avoidance, she added.
However, the guidelines suggest that hard-engineered structures may also transfer flood risk, reducing it in one location only to increase it in another. Current risks will change in the future, requiring more flexible and adaptable solutions, she said.
As urgent measures to handle possible flooding in the next five months, Waraporn said the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration should dig canals and eliminate garbage from all canals, which cause difficulties for the drainage system. Meanwhile, the government should repair all dykes and pump stations, which are now able to function at only 40 per cent of capacity to drain flood water.
An effective early-warning system and designated flood-hazard areas are also needed to help people prepare for evacuation when needed, she said. 
World Bank senior economist Kirida Bhaopichitr said the bank is reviewing gross domestic product projection for Thailand in the wake of last year’s massive flooding and the European economic crisis. The outcome of the review will be announced in April, she said. 
“A clear plan from the government on preventing further flood damage could boost confidence among investors, encouraging them to return,” she said, adding that the World Bank has approved US$1 billion (Bt31 billion) in funds to support the government’s anti-flood efforts. The bank is now awaiting a formal request from the government for the funds. 

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