a cyclist navigates through flood water

Weatherwatch: climate change raises flood risks for river communities

People living near waterways must choose between moving away or building ever-larger flood defences

— Most of our oldest towns and cities are on rivers, often in the upper part of the estuary where ships could easily come in on the rising tide. They were founded in an era where boats were the easiest and sometimes the only form of long distance transport. Towns also developed at either end of important bridges.

The risks of being on the river and being exposed to flooding or storm surges were outweighed by the economic advantages of having property on the waterfront.

Apart from a handful of major ports, a lot of ancient towns now have all their goods supplied by road and see their rivers as much as a threat as an asset.

As rainfall intensifies with climate change the potential devastation from floods leaves residents with two choices, move away from the river or build ever-larger flood defences.

Recent research shows that in poorer countries where floods have swept through towns people have relocated to higher ground, abandoning their homes rather than face a repeat catastrophe.

a cyclist navigates through flood water
A cyclist navigates through flood water in Tewkesbury, at the confluence of the Severn and Avon rivers in Gloucestershire, after heavy rain in January. Photograph: Lewis Whyld/PA

 

Richer countries, including Britain, have opted to build earth banks or concrete walls to protect real estate in towns from the rivers, effectively sealing off the waterways that were the original reason for their existence and wealth.


by Paul Brown | The Guardian