The holistic approach to extreme flooding resilience
By Joost Buurman
Although engineers and economists have good reasons to follow codes of practices and professional standards, in the process of creating optimal flood protection such as embankments, diversion canals or early warning systems, the view of the larger picture with all its uncertainties is often lost.
Policy-makers readily accept the recommendations of engineers and traditional risk analysts and show the people that with government investments they are now safe. Yet, the focus on single solutions such as embankments means that people are not protected against or prepared for extreme events at all. Embankments are known to produce complacency, leading to risky decisions and actions such as building closer to a river.
Taking the Holistic Approach to Planning
One solution is to take a more holistic approach that acknowledges the existence of many uncertainties. The word “resilience” is often used in this context. A resilient flood management approach looks at the entire system of flooding and people—not just at flood protection projects—and consists of measures and policies that allow a society to continue functioning and able to recover in the face of extreme floods. It might also include what is now called ecosystem-based adaptation where emphasis is on “living with floods.”