Managing the risk of surface water flooding

Research by the University of Oxford, in conjunction with the London School of Economics, is playing a key role in combating one of Britain’s most persistent natural hazards.

Photo by northallertonman / Shutterstock

Photo by northallertonman / Shutterstock

Recent years have seen torrential rain cause widespread flooding in the south west, the Thames Valley and Cumbria. Few places, it seems, are safe from one of Britain’s most persistent natural hazards, but effective action can make a difference, managing the extent of flooding and reducing its impact. Dr Katie Jenkins, a researcher at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, has been integrally involved in a novel analysis of the implications of surface water flooding for flood insurance, offering significant new insights for improving flood risk management efforts in the UK.

Working on an EU FP7 project called ENHANCE, in collaboration with the LSE, Dr Jenkins has been investigating the economic effect of surface water flood risk, and the role of climate change, on Greater London. In particular, with LSE senior research fellow Dr Swenja Surminski, Dr Jenkins has focused on the role of insurance in risk management. Their work points to better ways of aligning flood insurance and flood risk management efforts – an aspect that is currently missing from the existing and newly proposed flood insurance scheme.

‘Our research investigates the UK flood insurance scheme, which is based on a partnership between the public and private sector,’ explains Dr Jenkins. ‘We assess the relative merits of household and community risk reduction measures, using an agent-based model to factor in perspectives from a number of different stakeholders. The aim is to foster greater resilience to flooding by utilising flood insurance.’

The methodology used by Dr Jenkins and Dr Surminski can be replicated for nationwide studies – and it informed discussion of Flood Re, an innovative insurance scheme to provide affordable flood insurance for the 350,000 to 500,000 homes in the UK considered to be at significant risk of flooding.

‘Flood Re is a not-for-profit approach to insuring high risk households against flooding,’ says Dr Jenkins. ‘It exemplifies how the UK is transitioning towards a new flood insurance arrangement.’ The research undertaken by Dr Jenkins and Dr Surminski has been cited by the Bank of England in a report on the impact of climate change on the insurance sector, triggering extensive stakeholder debate. Furthermore the researchers are currently engaging with Flood Re to advise on how best to utilise Flood Re in the overarching efforts to address flood risk in the UK.

Giorgis Hadzilacos from Willis Re, one of the key specialist advisors regarding the Flood Re scheme, said:’the research by Dr Jenkins has shed light on some of the Flood Re project’s unanswered questions, meaning that insurers are better placed to understand the impact of the scheme and consequences under future climate change.’

Research funded by: European Funding

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Dr Katie Jenkins

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