New technology can fight floods in emerging markets

As climate change causes sea levels to rise to unprecedented levels, governments and citizens in vulnerable countries are finding innovative ways to predict, prevent, adapt and ensure floods do not occur.

Flooding in West and Central Africa over the past two weeks has displaced more than 3.4 million people, with Nigeria experiencing its worst floods in a decade, killing hundreds and affecting 2.8 million, according to the UN refugee agency.

Extreme flooding, which has killed more than 1,300 people in Pakistan since June, is now threatening a food crisis.

Floods will become more common in the future. A UN report released last week found that despite government action to tackle climate change, the planet is still on track to be 2.1°C to 2.9°C warmer than pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.

Fragile coastal megacities

With the world unable to tackle climate change in the short to medium term, countries must urgently find solutions to mitigate the devastating effects of extreme flooding.

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

These sheer numbers reflect a simultaneous rise in sea levels and urbanization, making those living in coastal megacities the most vulnerable group.

Traditional engineering solutions such as flood walls and levees can help, but may not be sufficient if gutters or floodplains are non-existent, aged, or clogged. In Nigeria, for example, government officials say structures built along drains have 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 extreme floods. For example, the Chinese port city of Ningbo transformed 3km of abandoned land previously developed into ecological corridors and parks.

Creating more sustainable ecosystems further afield is another way to withstand water surges during storms. Several southern and eastern African countries are looking to build the so-called “Great Blue Wall” to protect coastal and marine areas of the Indian Ocean from Somalia to South Africa.

forecasting technology

Technology plays a far-reaching role in helping countries predict floods and warn residents of danger.

With an estimated 20% of the country at risk of flooding, Malaysia has become a global leader in deploying forecasting and monitoring technology.

By the end of 2022, Malaysia’s Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID) will launch a national flood forecast and warning system jointly developed with UK engineering consultancy HR Wallingford.

The system collects data from 700 observatories 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 precise imagery data that planners can use to prevent and predict floods and assess damage after the fact.

Malaysia’s space agency is using drones and two satellites, the third of which is scheduled 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 called eBanjir directly assist DID’s flood management plan.

Brazil also leverages data through its Waterproofing Data mobile app, which was developed locally in March 2022 in collaboration with researchers in 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 severe flooding. The app is currently in use in 20 cities, and the research team behind the platform is looking to deploy it to other countries around the world.

Using higher quality and larger volumes of data means AI can help predict when floods are likely to occur, enabling more targeted flood-fighting infrastructure. For example, researchers at Stanford University are using machine learning to track atmospheric patterns and predict when precipitation will trigger flooding.

flood control food

In addition to uprooting people, floods can damage infrastructure, farmland and livestock, and damage water and sanitation over the next few months, jeopardizing food security in the short term.

To address this, growing more resilient crops could help small farmers, who have lost an estimated $21 billion in produce and livestock to floods over the past decade, second only to drought.

Researchers are using genetic tools to breed a flood-tolerant gene called Sub1. Using the resulting flood-resistant rice, yielding 60 percent higher yields than standard varieties in controlled experiments, could significantly reduce the 4 million tons of rice lost to floods each year.

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

Other subsistence farmers are turning to the age-old practice of using floating farms to ensure crop yields amid rising sea levels.

The practice is being used by more than 6,000 farmers in Bangladesh’s southwestern delta region to grow fruits and vegetables on rafts made from the material, which is already underwater for 8 to 10 months of the year, compared to about 200 years ago. Only 5 months per year. Invasive hyacinth.

Farmers in Mexico have also resumed using chinnampas (Farm Island) — a narrow strip of land on a shallow lake near Mexico City, anchored to the bottom of the lake with native willows — to meet agricultural needs when traditional markets are closed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Developed by the Aztecs more than 700 years ago, chinampas are highly fertile plantations that house a range of products from fruit and vegetables to eggs and honey. They have the added benefit of being able to meet their water needs directly from the lake itself.

at Oxford Business Group

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