Responding to flood risk in China

Professor Jim Hall, Director of the Environmental Change Institute, has jointly edited a special issue of the Journal of Flood Risk Management, which presents important lessons learned from a flood risk management project in China.

The Taihu Basin, located on the southern side of the estuary of the Yangtze River, is remarkably vulnerable to flooding. Major floods occurred in 1991 and 1999 and were associated with water levels that exceeded historical records. Damage was extensive and the events received significant attention from both local and central government.

The UK Government’s Chief Scientist, Sir David King, visited China in 2004 to cultivate scientific collaboration. During has visit it was decided to apply the methods of flood risk analysis and scenario analysis – developed in the recently completed UK Foresight project on Flood and Coastal Defence – to the Taihu Basin area. Funding was provided for a Chinese Foresight flooding project by the UK and Chinese governments and United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs. The project was launched under the auspices of the China-UK Science and Technology Commission in 2006 and was completed in 2009. It considered how the risks of flooding in the Taihu Basin might change over the next 50 years, as well as the best options for Government and other stakeholders for responding to future challenges.

The Taihu Basin Foresight Project involved collaborative work by researchers and practitioners in institutions in the UK and China, including numerous bilateral visits. It revealed a number of important lessons about flood risk management in rapidly developing countries, which form the basis of this special issue of the Journal of Flood Risk Management.

The project provides a blueprint for how the impacts of long-term changes in flood risk, driven by climatic and socio-economic changes among other processes, may be analysed in order to provide the evidence needed to inform adaptation decisions.

Simon Dadson wins grant to study the impacts of urbanisation on water security in the Thames

Dr. Simon Dadson from the School of Geography and the Environment has been awarded a £160k NERC grant for a project which aims to advance understanding of the fine-scale impacts of urbanisation on water resources and pollution in the Thames river basin.

Over the past 50 years changes in UK land use have been considerable and this trend is likely to continue. The UK population is projected to increase by 16% to 2035 which will bring about change to the size and structure of urban areas and increased pressure on land management. These changes have significant implications for water resources.

The three-year project ‘Changes in urbanisation and its effects on water quantity and quality from local to regional scale’ will focus on water security in the Thames river basin, a region facing serious water stress.

A novel integrated modelling approach will be developed and tested for detailed local case studies, and then scaled up for testing across the entire basin. Future impacts on water resources will be quantified, taking into account projections of urban development, land management, and climate change.

The project is a collaboration between Oxford University, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and the University of Surrey.

Integrated Urban Water Management – lessons and recommendations from around the world

Alvar Closas, a DPhil candidate at the School of Geography and the Environment, is lead author of a World Bank publication on Integrated Urban Water Management (IUWM). The report reviews a number of IUWM initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, Central Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

IUWM is a response to complex urban water challenges, including rapid population growth, inadequate connections to sewage systems, floods and the lack of proper drainage systems, and intensifying competition for water between sectors. It aims to develop flexible and efficient urban water systems by linking together planning, management and stakeholder participation across sectors and institutions.

The report summarises lessons from IUWM initiatives and pilot studies funded by the World Bank’s Water Partnership Program. It provides a valuable set of recommendations and guidelines for operationalising IUWM approaches.

Experiences from around the world show that there are both significant opportunities and challenges to implementing IUWM. Flexible and adaptive institutional frameworks are needed to achieve IUWM, and problems will be encountered where existing cities are locked into rigid institutional frameworks, traditional technologies and non-integrated urban plans.

Newly-built or planned areas, or even rapidly expanding cities, offer potential for adopting IUWM principles. The report highlights alternative solutions that can complement traditional planning and technological approaches, such as innovative technologies planned around new urban clusters, decentralised infrastructure, and diversification of water sources.

Read the full report

Collaboration with Chinese Government and WWF identifies best practice for drought management

Paul Sayers is working with the Chinese Government and WWF to identify world best practice for risk-based drought planning and management. He will present findings at the Asian Water Week 2013 to be held on 13-15 March in Manila, Phillipines.

The Chinese Government has committed significant resources to address water resource management issues across the country. Drought is one particular challenge, which occurs regularly in China and often has very significant social, economic and environmental consequences.

As climate change increases uncertainty about future rainfall patterns, potentially increasing the frequency and severity of droughts, it is important that sophisticated drought planning and management is mainstreamed in China.

Oxford’s Paul Sayers is part of an on-going collaboration between WWF and the Chinese Government’s General Institute of Water Resources & Hydropower Planning (GIWP), aimed at synthesising lessons from international experiences in this field and identifying world best practice. This information will be used to support GIWP in its role as key planning agency under the Ministry of Water Resources. The results will also contribute to WWF’s freshwater work globally.

In March, Sayers will meet with WWF, GIWP and the Asian Development Bank in Manila to discuss the development of strategic drought planning guidance. This will include the principles, methods and approaches for undertaking risk-based drought planning and management as a means of supporting the overarching goals of the river basin plan and other related management objectives. Sayers will also present results at the Asian Water Week 2013.

This latest work continues a four year long collaboration on water-related issues, with earlier projects focusing on river basin management, water allocation and strategic flood risk management.

Paul Sayers is a Senior Visiting Fellow at the School of Geography and the Environment.

The story of the Mekong Basin Development Plan

Prof. David Grey is a member of the International Panel of Experts for the Mekong River Commission’s Basin Development Plan and a co-author of a recent MRC publication ‘The BDP Story. Mekong Basin Planning: the Story behind the Basin Development Plan”.

The booklet tells the captivating story of one of the world’s great river basins. The river is characterised by high variability of flows, resulting in cycles of flooding and droughts which hamper economic and social development in the region.

The Mekong Basin Development Plan is an instrument of the Lower Mekong Basin countries of Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam for cooperation over the sustainable use, management and conservation of the basin’s water resources. The story of the Basin Development Plan is told within the context of the history of the Lower Mekong region and the history of planning and development of the river basin.

The booklet points out that there are significant benefits to be gained and shared through cooperation. The Basin Development Plan presents an important opportunity for the Lower Mekong Basin countries to move forward with development to support economic growth and poverty reduction.

The planning process has enabled countries to identify strategic priorities for the basin, outline steps for the implementation of joint development projects, and explore mechanisms for sharing transboundary benefits. As well as harnessing the opportunities for development, the initiative also aims to ensure that negative impacts of water resources development are kept to a minimum.

A cautiously optimistic outlook is depicted for the future of the river basin and its potential to deliver the sustainable development very much needed by the people of the Mekong.

Read the full publication