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Simonovic Seeks Flooding Solutions Jul 20th, 2004

by Paul Mayne

Western’s Slobodan Simonovic, Research Chair in Civil and Environmental Engineering, is helping to design a new international mechanism for coping with the ever-increasing damage and loss of life caused by flooding.

And the life-and-death component of his work couldn’t have been more apparent last week during his visit to Japan where he was developing the initiative. Sixteen people in the northwest part of the country were killed after tremendous rains caused substantial flooding.

“You wouldn’t think something like that would happen in a developed country such as Japan,” says Simonovic. Still, large portions of Japan are on flood plain.

“The easy solution would be to just move everyone out of the flood plains. But Japan has 200 million people and that’s not going to happen. It just shows you that we need this international science to assist all governments everywhere in dealing with floods.”

One of six members working on the design, Simonovic, who also works through Western’s Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, says their work still needs approval from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and World Meteorological Organization. Both are expected to give approval this fall.

Formal launch of the new flood agency will likely take place at a December workshop on Water and Disasters organized by Western’s Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction under the leadership of Simonovic.

The International Flood Initiative is expected to contribute to flood damage mitigation by integrating scientific, operational, formal and public educational aspects of flood management.

“With developing countries, the occurrence of a flood could literally wipe out a country,” says Simonovic, mentioning locations such as Bangladesh and Honduras.

“We need to create methods and find ways to cope with such occurrences. Flooding is going to happen and we need to have the mechanisms and do what we can in order to live with them.”

In Canada, Peterborough, Ont. is entering a state of emergency for the fifth straight day after torrential downpours left a large portion of the city under water.

Whereas the devastation there is more materialistic, Simonovic adds this sort of occurrence still falls under the mechanism his group is working on.

“The flooding in this case is more of a municipal problem, but that’s still an aspect of our work,” he says.

“Do we need to develop new design codes for municipal drainage pipes? This would require substantial investment, but we’re continually receiving more intense rains. We need to deal with reality.”

Floods, which have been a growing factor in human lives since the first permanent human settlements, are responsible for thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in damage every year.

The increase in number of floods over the decades can be linked to global climactic change, says Simonovic.

“We feel climactic change is definitely playing a role in the increase we are seeing in flooding around the world. The rain and temperatures we’re experiencing are heavier and more intense,” he says.

“The idea is that we need to be proactive when it comes to dealing with flooding. Being reactive is simply paying the bills and we can’t continue in that manner.”

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