When flood disasters occur, a traditional reaction is to suggest the straightforward, obvious, simple solution of not building on floodplains. But what if building on a flood plain is the only option you have?
In principle, not building on floodplains is the easiest and clearest solution and it is the solution which many locations have miserably failed to adopt so far. Residents of Lagos state are notable culprits but you really can’t blame the average homeowner who decides to build on a flood plain or low-line area. In practice, the following issues arise:We do not have an exact understanding of the current location of floodplains. Floodplain maps in many countries are reasonably good, but are they good enough for making long-term development decisions?
- We do not have an exact understanding of the future locations of floodplains. Much can change during the lifetime of a property.
- All locations have hazards. For example, avoiding low ground due to flooding might increase vulnerability to wind and, thus, increase the damage and deaths resulting from wind storms.
- People need to live somewhere. Considering Lagos, by the time we have eliminated all floodplains, wind hazard areas, areas with high crime rate, traffic-prone areas, highly congested areas, locations with landslide potential, areas of outstanding natural beauty, Land for agricultural purposes, Government reserved land, disputed land, land around airports, wildlife reserves, land near industrial and waste management facilities, and all other areas of concern, we might be hard-pressed to find enough places in the country to build sustainable, healthy, accessible communities.
- Living in floodplains has many advantages. Many people enjoy the view of, or proximity to, rivers or the ocean. The importance of feeling comfortable in one’s location with respect to building sustainable, healthy communities should not be underestimated.
- Building flood-resistant properties, people, and communities is possible, but all must be considered. For example, community design can exacerbate flooding even if all properties are flood-resistant. Proper choices along with education and training can ensure that disruption can be minimised during and after a flood.
None of these issues are insurmountable nor do they preclude banning development in floodplains. We must simply be careful not to ignore the practical issues which arise from the principles.
All development choices involve risk and affect vulnerability. The issue is to make choices which encompass all factors, which explore all options, and which provide the people who will be living in a place with complete, honest information.
The tragedy and disaster do not relate to building on floodplains, but improperly building on floodplains.