floods in southeast asiaTraditionally, the people of Southeast Asia benefitted from small floods that enriched the soil and prevented bigger floods. However, human interference with the rivers has disrupted their natural ecological processes and increased long-term damage. The disruption of crops, destruction of land and the displacement of people due to flooding increases poverty, especially during Southeast Asia’s current economic crisis. Mitigating steps are necessary to prevent the harmful effects of floods in Southeast Asia.

Destructive Floods in Vietnam

In October 2020, heavy rains in Vietnam caused massive flooding that destroyed homes, land and agriculture. A massive 178,000 homes were destroyed and nearly 700,000 livestock fell victim to the floodwaters.

Described by the president of the Vietnam Red Cross Society as “some of the worst we’ve seen in decades”, the floods in Vietnam have affected around five million Vietnamese people, which will push more people toward poverty.

Urban Flooding in Cambodia

In Cambodia, cities such as Phnom Penh suffer from the effects of urban flooding. Urban flooding is unpredictable and has wide-ranging consequences, from the disruption of everyday life to the spreading of waterborne diseases. As is commonly associated with climate change, the poor are hurt the most by urban flooding, for their ability to prepare and recover from damages is significantly weaker than other classes.

Roughly 250,000 people living in Phnom Penh are living in informal settlements and deal with inadequate waste management and infrastructure. Stagnant bacteria-ridden water from floods can linger for eight months after floods, spreading a host of waterborne diseases to those in proximity. Furthermore, as the economy is projected to decrease by 4% in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, poor people are increasingly likely to be trapped in cyclical poverty.

COVID-19 Stalls Decades of Growth

Despite decades of deadly civil war, Cambodia has made consistent progress towards reducing poverty before COVID-19. Over the past two decades, life expectancy has increased 10 years, poverty has been reduced from 47% to 13%, and growth in the country averaged out to 8%.  Additionally, the country lowered infant mortality rates from 10% to 2%.

While Cambodia’s COVID-19 cases are very low, with zero deaths thus far, the contraction of the global economic market has led to financial struggles for its citizens. The poverty rate is expected to balloon back up to 20% as a result of the economic crisis. The sectors hit hardest include the tourism and garment industries, where demand from its Western consumer base has drastically fallen.

Measures Against Floods in Southeast Asia

Although the nature of monsoons is unpredictable, the extent of the damage and destruction of floods can be mitigated. One recommendation is for Southeast Asian nations to commit to curbing emissions in order to combat climate change, which can increase the volatility of weather. Climate change reduces the ability for scientists to estimate long-term trends and build dams to control flood levels.

Additionally, the concept of leaving room for the river has become popular. This concept essentially promotes soft engineering, or removing human technology from rivers and allowing their ecological processes to be carried out naturally. Furthermore, allowing and managing small floods can benefit the land and those cultivating it while preventing big floods.

Though natural disasters cannot be controlled, efforts from organizations and governments may help the country’s resilience in the aftermath of floods in Southeast Asia. Such efforts can provide instant relief to affected people and may also help to alleviate overall poverty in the countries.

– Adrian Rufo
Photo: Flickr

Flooding in LibyaLibya has been a regular victim of severe flooding for many decades and the problem is only becoming more severe. Heavy rains have caused significant problems, with flooding and landslides in urban and rural areas making day-to-day life infeasible for thousands.

Flooding in Al-Bayda, Libya

On November 6 2020, Al-Bayda, Libya, experienced torrential rains and extreme flooding, resulting in the displacement of thousands. High water levels on public roads have made daily commutes impossible for many. Additionally, the floods have left thousands without electricity and have greatly damaged properties.

The flooding of 2020 is reminiscent of the flooding in the Ghat district in 2019, which affected 20,000 people and displaced 4,500. In June of 2019, flooding devastated areas in south Libya and damaged roads and farmland.  Central infrastructure suffered unrecoverable damages, setting the region back. Areas prone to disaster are significantly limited in their progression and development when devastation is so frequent.

Flooding and Poverty

The pattern of flooding in Libya has consistently contributed to problems of economic decline, poor infrastructure and poverty. As one of the most common natural disasters, flooding impacts impoverished areas more severely because their infrastructure is not built to withstand floods or landslides.

Poor countries take a long time to recover from the impact of flooding because they do not have the resources and money to repair property damage and help people to bounce back from the effects. War-affected countries are even more vulnerable and Libya is such a country affected by war and conflict.

Within the country, a two-day holiday was declared on November 9 and 10 of 2020 due to the extreme flooding and $7 million has been allocated to address damages in Al-Bayda municipality.  Since the flooding, there has been little recognition and support from the international community.

Humanitarian Aid

A humanitarian aid team from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operation (ECHO) assembled to provide aid to support the city of Al-Bayda and other cities vulnerable to flooding in Libya. The team worked to gather information and identify what resources are most needed to help families get back on their feet and be better prepared for future severe flooding and weather. Cleanup efforts are ongoing and teams started using satellite imaging and other data-collecting resources to help assess and plan for resource distribution.

The Need for Foreign Aid in Libya

In response to Libya’s chronic vulnerability to severe flooding, in 2019, the U.S. Government provided nearly $31.3 million to address the humanitarian needs of conflict-affected populations throughout Libya. Since the floods are ongoing, ongoing assistance is needed. Proactive and preventative measures need to be implemented in response to the devastating pattern of flooding in Libya. These are expensive investments, however, and Libya cannot implement these preventative measures alone. Help from the international community is crucial in order to create a more resilient country.

– Allyson Reeder
Photo: Flickr

Flooding in CameroonFlooding in Cameroon is common during the rainy season, greatly impacting the northern regions. In recent years, flooding has worsened in the north and harmed access to livelihoods which has impacted those in poverty. While these natural disasters are not entirely preventable, organizations are working with Cameroon’s government to lessen their effects.

History of Flooding in Cameroon

In 2015, flooding in Cameroon displaced thousands of people. The country’s capital city, Yaoundé, as well as the large population city of Douala, are vulnerable to flooding. By August of 2015, the flooding disaster had impacted 40,000 people in those cities.

The capital itself has experienced 130 floods in the past, between the years of 1980 and 2014. All of those floods caused economic damage as well as the loss of life. Flooding in cities can also lead to disease outbreaks because bugs and bacteria can live in the still floodwater.

In 2019, flooding impacted Cameroon’s Far North region. The floods greatly impacted livelihoods because about 70% of people in the area are farmers. When the Logone River overflowed, it impacted the agriculture that occurs on the floodplain next to it. ACAPS, an organization that helps disaster responders through research, reported that the flooding affected rice production, pasturing and fishing.

The Far North is also the poorest region in Cameroon. About 75% of the population experiences greater risk during floods because poorer households often live in homes made from materials such as straw roofing. These materials are not durable long-term and are, therefore, negatively impacted by floodwater. This is not the first time the Logone river and the northern region have flooded. In 2012, a flood in the area damaged 30,000 households.

The Path to Recovery

Since 2014, The World Bank has been working on the Flood Emergency Project in Cameroon. This project came into being after flooding on the Logone in northern Cameroon. The project lowers risk from annual flooding for over 100,000 people. As a result of the project,  disaster risk management and livelihoods in the region have improved.

After the 2015 floods, the government worked to decrease the number of floods that affect cities, particularly the capital. The government built a “drainage canal network” which cost about $102 million, according to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR). The project aims to build a waste treatment and disposal plant as well as four more drainage canals.

“The first phase of the project helped to scale down the number of floods from 15 to three annually. But much still remains to be done in order that peripheries which are still vulnerable to floods are completely freed from related risks,” said Serge Mbarga Enama, an engineer at Yaoundé City Council, to UNDRR.

The government also looked at high flood-risk areas, demolished homes there and evicted people living in informal communities in those places. The danger with evicting people from these areas is that they lack the land titles needed to receive compensation for the demolition that would help pay for housing in low-risk flood areas.  As a result, some end up returning to high flood-risk areas. Others are at risk of becoming homeless in big cities like the capital.

Aside from looking more closely at those living in high-risk areas, the government adopted the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. It is a global agreement that would last 15 years. The goal of the framework is to raise awareness about disasters in order to reduce the effects of flooding in Cameroon.

What is Currently Happening

Since the 2019 floods, the Cameroon Red Cross Society has been responding to disasters. The organization was able to reach affected areas soon after the floods, only taking a few days. The Cameroon Red Cross provided first aid and support services, as well as kits filled with essential household items for those in need.

The Cameroon government is still involved with the 15-year Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and working to improve disaster awareness. The UNDRR reported that the program focuses on four key aspects:

  1. To understand the risk level for disaster

  2. To strengthen the governance of disaster risk in order to improve the management

  3. To invest in disaster preparedness for effective response

  4. To “Build Back Better” to recover, rehabilitate and reconstruct

Cameroon will continue working on the program until 2030.

Flooding in Cameroon has a major impact on the northern region, as well as big cities such as the capital. While floods still impact the livelihoods of people in high-risk areas, especially impacting poorer populations, the Cameroonian government and international organizations have instituted programs to reduce the impacts of flooding.

Melody Kazel
Photo: Flickr