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Trends in flood risk management in deltas around the world: Are we going ‘soft’?

~Anna Wesselinka, Jeroen Warnerb, Md Abu Syedc, Faith Chand, Dung Duc Trane, Hamidul Huqf, Fredrik Huthoffg, Ngan Le Thuyh, Nicholas Pinteri, Martijn Van Staverenj, Philippus Westerk, Arjen Zegwaardl


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Societies in delta areas have long taken advantage of the agricultural and transport opportunities offered by the presence of rivers, which provide water for irrigation, silt for soil improvement, and easy conveyance for shipping people and goods. On the other hand, flooding on these same rivers threatens lives and livelihoods. In addition, because of their coastal location, deltas are also prone to flooding from the sea due to high tides and/or storm surges, cyclones etc. In this paper we describe and compare the historical pathways by which societies in six deltas have protected themselves against both types of flooding, and we seek to understand why and how those societies have chosen as they did. We will look for common trends, and try to explain how they have arisen. Societal responses to flooding may include infrastructure (technology), behavioural rules, and financial and administrative regulations (institutions). These are interdependent; for example, by comparing Dutch and German flood management practices Krieger (2013) shows how the technical understanding of ‘risk’ itself is institutionally shaped. We start with the assumption that societal responses to flood risk management (FRM) are shaped by local context as well as global developments. Local context includes a society’s culture, including formal and informal institutions; the physical possibilities and constraints it faces; the historical development of its economy, political system, education, etc., and last but not least, the technical experience with FRM that a society has accumulated or to which it has access, for example through foreign consultants. In our Conclusion, we also situate the observed FRM histories in the global context of what has been labelled ‘modernity’. After Green, Parker, and Tunstall (2000) and Hegger et al. (2013) and akin to the socalled flood safety chain (Ten Brinke, Saeijs, Helsloot, & Van Alphen, 2008), we distinguish A. Wesselink et al. / Trends in flood risk management in deltas 27 five types of FRM measures; a combination of these make up the FRM approach at any one time in one delta: • Flood risk prevention: reducing the consequences of potential flooding through landuse planning: steering property investment in floodplains (allowing, preventing or removing); relocation of essential services, utilities and infrastructure. • Flood protection: protecting existing assets through ‘hard’ engineering, e.g. dikes, dams. • Flood mitigation: diminishing the flood volume and timing itself through reduced urban drainage, rural land management practices and upland retention; e.g. ‘room for the river’ initiatives. • Flood preparation, including warning systems, disaster planning. • Flood recovery, e.g. rebuilding, insurance.



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