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If we don’t learn from past climate disasters, they will claim more lives in the future

If we don’t learn from past climate disasters, they will claim more lives in the future

The UN climate summit is a central focus of discussion COP26Glasgow is about how to adapt to the warming world, and how to prevent climate hazards becoming disasters.

When a hazard causes harm to human life, it becomes a disaster. That’s why, to prevent climate-related disasters, we must anticipate and adapt to future hazards to keep people safe. This will require enormous amounts of money and years of careful planning – as well as, crucially, learning from past mistakes.

This July in Germany, the Rhineland-Palatinate, and North Rhine-Westphalia states devastating floodsMore than 180 people died and hundreds of buildings and homes were destroyed in torrential rainfalls. With their occupants still in their homes, houses were torn off their foundations. In the raging flood waters, trees and caravans were tossed. Some rivers rose nine metres above their normal levels, twice the height of a double-deckerbus.

One woman was trapped on the first floor with her two young children. She was later rescued. was told by her daughter: “I know we’ll die. But please don’t be sad. We will die together.” Months later, teams of unpaid volunteers continue to drain waterlogged cellars, bulldoze wreckage, and feed families who are still homeless.

Debris piled by a road
Cleaning efforts are underway after the July floods, Erftstadt–Blessem in Germany.
Achim Raschka/Wikimedia

In the immediate aftermath of the floods, it was clear that something had gone badly wrong for one of the world’s richest countries to experience this scale of death and destruction. Some people – the authors included – were quick to criticise apparent failures in local and national flood preparedness systems.

These systems involve politicians, weather forecasters, and emergency services. North Rhine-Westphalia is home to the following: parliamentary inquiryIn October, the inquiry was created to determine where the chain failed during the summer floods and who should take responsibility. One of us was asked to testify to this inquiry. He or she will provide perspective on the events and suggest ways to prevent future crises.

Luxembourg floods

As Germany was submerged, Luxembourg, a small landlocked country bordered to the east by Germany, was also affected. Here are the details: floods causedMore than 100 evacuations financial losses of at least £111m.

The floods took the country by surprise. Despite the fact that it was a severe flood, Copernicus Emergency Management Service’s European Flood Awareness System (EFAS) was indicating a high chance of extreme flooding in the affected area several daysYou can make sure you have enough time to prepare. some peopleThey claimed that they were not notified of the impending rise.

What’s more, a flagship emergency warning app meant to provide early warnings to the Luxembourg population had only been downloaded by 15,000 people out of a population of 640,000 – and crashed on the day of the flood. The servers hosting Luxembourg’s National Meteorology Service website also crashed following the floods, displaying only an error message to citizens desperate for information.

Water rises up the side of a row of houses
Luxembourg suffered more than a hundred million pounds of damage from flooding.
Tristan Schmurr/Flickr

Many people didn’t know they were at risk. Flood victims later claimed that they didn’t know they lived in a flood area, that they didn’t know how to protect themselves from the water coming into their homes, and that they did not know where to find information on the risks they were facing.

Although this list of failures might not have been the fault or any one agency, it is likely that it contributed to the emotional and material toll of the disaster much more than if all systems were operational. The Luxembourg authorities are unwilling to learn from this.

Luxembourg’s prime minister, Xavier Bettel, said in parliament that “no one could have predicted the extent of the flooding” as it unfolded: a statementThis is incorrect because EFAS had predicted it. He continued to insist that an outside inquiry into the flood response was necessary. not necessarySince individual agencies had already evaluated their performance, this was possible.

This is a bad decision if Luxembourg wants better flood preparedness. This is especially true when you consider that the main causes of the disaster’s unfolding were a lack of early warning and inadequate preventative measures.

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A house on a clifftop viewed from below

Learn from the past

After the UK was devastated by the devastating and expensive flooding caused by one of the wettest summersThe following 2007 record was made. review of the country’s response by planning expert Sir Michael PittThe UK has identified key areas of focus to assist in dealing with flooding in the future.

This review was the beginning of a revolution in flood risk management in the UK. This included the creation and operation of the Flood Forecasting Centre in April 2009 – a collaboration between the Environment Agency and the Met Office that combines weather and flooding expertise to give early warnings of extreme weather events. Since then, the centre has provided support in crisis management during major floods. This includes flooding from two major storms. Ciara and DennisIn February 2020.

The world is now watching Glasgow as leaders respond to the climate crisis. While we are deciding how to adapt the climate risks to come, our first task should always be to learn from what communities around the world have experienced.


COP26: the world's biggest climate talks

This story is part of The Conversation’s coverage on COP26, the Glasgow climate conference, by experts from around the world.

The Conversation is here to help you understand the climate news and stories. More.



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