Climate change is exacerbating flood risks in many parts of the world, but unfortunately, research about the impacts of this climate-related flooding is not evenly conducted around the world. Research on flood-vulnerable communities, and subsequent mitigation funding, tends to center on more affluent regions, leaving marginalized communities unprepared and at higher risk when extreme weather strikes. To address this discrepancy, researchers propose five ways to make flood-risk research more equitable.
Collect the right data
Global flood risk data often overlooks lower income countries and regions. For example, the initial estimation of how many people would be affected by rising sea levels by 2100 was 48 million people, but when researchers took a closer look at developing countries, that figure increased to 190 million people. Some of this is due to gaps in flood reporting in low income areas, but engaging local institutions to seek out flood data from residents themselves can help fill these gaps.
Choose the right metrics
Looking at flood damage from a purely monetary standpoint doesn’t adequately assess risk. For example, after flooding in Mumbai in 2005, middle-income families lost two to three times their monthly income in damages, while lower-income families lost six times their monthly income. Mapping out the societal benefits of flood risk aversion measures is also critical, as it looks at how flood mitigation investments can not only save money but provide overall benefits to entire communities.
Look beyond simply flood risk
Assessing a community’s vulnerability to flooding is the first step for many climate scientists, but there are many other factors that can determine risk beyond environmental and infrastructure conditions. Language barriers to accessing emergency information, complex access to recovery funds, or lack of emergency relief services in low income areas can exacerbate a flooding crisis.
Follow the money
An easy way to root out inequity is to seek out who benefits financially from the current system. Just as placing industrial factories in low income neighborhoods results in less pushback on the corporations running them, insurance companies, government policies, and relief efforts will neglect lower income neighborhoods to improve optics and their bottom line.
Assessing current flood risk research demonstrates that there are clear gaps in the tangible data from low income communities, but no problem can be solved until it is quantified. Moving forward, climate risk research should focus on increasing participation from communities that have been historically overlooked.