India tops list of nations at risk from floods

Every year, the lives of 4.85 million Indians are disrupted by floods. At risk: $14.3 billion of GDP


Army and ITBP forces during a rescue operation at Gobindghat, Uttarakhand, on 21 June 2013. Photo: Mint
Army and ITBP forces during a rescue operation at Gobindghat, Uttarakhand, on 21 June 2013. Photo: Mint

New Delhi: Uttarakhand floods, 2014. Brahmaputra floods, 2012. Bihar’s Kosi floods, 2008. Mumbai deluge, 2005.

If you thought India has no respite from relentless flood fury, you’re spot on.

According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), India tops the list of 163 nations affected by river floods in terms of number of people.

Every year, the lives of 4.85 million Indians are disrupted by floods. At risk: $14.3 billion of gross domestic product.

The analysis says with climate change and socio-economic development accelerating, the risk is bound to increase in the years ahead and river flooding will affect more people and wreak more damage by 2030.

As per the analysis, river flooding could affect 21 million people and expose $96 billion in GDP worldwide each year but by 2030, these numbers could grow to 54 million people and $521 billion in GDP affected every year.

India is followed by Bangladesh with 3.47 million people facing flood risk every year, China with 3.27 million, Vietnam with 0.92 million and Pakistan with 0.71 million people.

The numbers were generated with a new tool, the Aqueduct Global Flood Analyzer, which quantifies and visualizes the reality of global flood risk.

The tool estimates current and future potential exposed GDP, affected population and urban damage from river floods for every state, country and major river basin in the world.

WRI co-developed the tool with four Dutch research organizations: Deltares, the Institute for Environmental Studies of the VU University Amsterdam, Utrecht University and PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.

As per the WRI study, the top 15 countries in the list accounts for nearly 80% of the total population affected every year; these countries are all considered least developed or developing.

Among high-income countries, roughly 167,000 people are affected every year in the US, which is the highest-ranked high-income country in the list.

As per WRI, a clear trend that emerges across the world from their study is that “in lower and middle-income countries, socio-economic development is expected to concentrate more people, buildings, infrastructure and other assets in vulnerable regions”. “So, the developing world is expected to see more GDP exposed to flood risks in 2030, driven largely by socio-economic change,” the analysis added.

For instance, India faces more potential change in exposed GDP than any other country. As per the study estimates, India’s current $14 billion in GDP exposed annually could increase more than 10-fold to $154 billion in 2030 and approximately 60% of that increase could be caused by socio-economic development.

Among the developed nations, Australia, Croatia, Finland, Portugal, and Israel are expected to see more GDP exposed to floods in 2030, driven primarily by social-economic change.

“On the contrary, countries like the Netherlands, Slovenia, Belgium, Ireland, and Switzerland will likely see increased GDP exposure driven primarily by climate change,” the analysis explained.

Meanwhile, the study also said that climate change will expose more people to river floods than socio-economic development because both the “frequency and intensity of river floods is expected to increase due to climate change in many areas”.

Climate change would expand flood-prone areas and make floods more likely to occur in those areas more often, explained the study while adding that climate change would threaten population in the developed and developing world alike.

In Ireland, for instance, 2,000 people face flood risks currently but by 2030, 48,500 more people could face river flood risk, and 87% of that difference would be driven by climate change.

Among developing nations, around 715,000 people in Pakistan are at risk today but by 2030, river floods could affect two million more, with climate change driving 70% of that increase.

WRI said that sharing of their tool’s easily accessible data with public and private sector decision makers will immediately raise their awareness about current and future river-flood risks and thus armed with the right information, public and private sector decision makers can prioritize risk reduction and launch climate adaptation projects to prevent catastrophic damage to people and infrastructure.

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