Floods are the costliest natural disaster in the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), costing the country more than $ 1,000 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1980. The rise in the level more intense sea and storms could be devastating for the more than 40 percent of Americans who live in coastal areas.
New research on the impacts of flooding and strategies to reduce these risks will be presented at the Society for Risk Analysis 2021 annual meeting, December 5-9. Here are some highlights:
Fairer protection against flood risk in New Orleans
In a study examining the cost-benefit analysis of flood risk protection projects in New Orleans, Nathan Geldner of Purdue University considers the equity of residential flood risk protection. His analysis focuses on a mitigation project aimed at raising the foundations of single-family residences.
Most project investments are evaluated on their effectiveness in reducing the cost of property damage. The problem, according to Geldner, is that a purely economic goal can lead policymakers to inadvertently prioritize protecting richer areas over those with fewer economic resources.
His analysis compared the risk reduction benefits of a cost-effective strategy to one that minimizes structural damage standardized so that each residence is weighted equally. The results indicated that the traditional strategy allocated almost all investments to a single predominantly white neighborhood with severe flood exposure. This resulted in these white residents being considerably more protected than neighboring black communities because their homes were more expensive to replace. The second strategy, using an equity-focused approach that weighed each residence equally, allowed more of the funds to go to neighboring predominantly black neighborhoods because those homes were cheaper to protect.
Of all the neighborhoods in New Orleans, the one with the greatest risk of flooding and exposure is a predominantly white neighborhood outside of the dike system with moderately expensive homes. In New Orleans’ dike system, however, black communities are generally the most at risk of flooding, the most at risk of flooding, and homes generally smaller and less expensive to raise. “The purpose of this analysis is to understand the distributive impacts of coastal protection projects and to ensure that they do not inadvertently worsen existing racial and ethnic disparities,” said Geldner.
Health impacts of floods
The cost-benefit analysis used to determine the financing of national flood risk reduction projects primarily considers the loss of life and the monetary value of the physical impacts on buildings and infrastructure.
But flooding impacts public health in many other expensive ways, according to the authors of a new study funded by the US Army Corps of Engineers. In an effort to quantify the health effects of large-scale flooding, researchers are conducting a systematic review of academic papers on the human impacts of flooding published between 2000 and 2020.
Preliminary results from their analysis indicate that the effects of flooding on mental health include PTSD, depression, anxiety, and distress. Other health impacts include illness, injury, and chronic illness. The project also examines community-specific factors that may exacerbate or mitigate these health effects, such as gender, age, income and level of education.
These demographic and socioeconomic factors will help us assess how the adverse health effects of exposure to flood risk differ from one vulnerable community to another. “
Emily Wells, study co-author, engineering and public policy doctoral candidate, Carnegie Mellon University
The results will be synthesized into a modeling framework that can be adopted by engineers to estimate the health impacts of floods and integrate them into their risk assessment and project planning.
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