A new interactive tool estimates the economic, urban, and demographic risks through 2030.

Last September, India and Pakistan experienced devastating floods made deadlier because of shoddy urban planning and sluggish disaster management. About 600 people died, roughly 300 on either side of the border, as the river Jhelum flooded. Thousands were displaced, and many of those who lost their homes are still dealing with the aftermath of the disaster.

According to the World Resources Institute, river floods affect 21 million people in the world every year. In 2030, that number could rise to 54 million, with climate change driving the increase (hear that, Florida?) and urbanization putting more people in harm's way:

By 2030, the World Resources Institute estimates a 2.6-fold increase in the number of people affected by floods. (World Resources Institute)

To assess global disaster risk, WRI has designed an interactive tool that estimates the urban, demographic, and economic costs of river floods. Tianyi Luo, one of the research analysts behind the tool, says it can help government, disaster management, development, and other organizations highlight regions where they need to focus their resources. Globally, 15 countries—a majority of them in South and East Asia—account for 80 percent of the population vulnerable to river floods:

Countries with fewer resources and high rates of urbanization are more vulnerable. (World Resources Institute)

To work the tool, you first pick a country, state, or river basin in the world. Let's take the United States. WRI has assigned the U.S. a 100-year flood protection level, for example, because it has the resources to protect against floods at and below a 100-year magnitude. Users can adjust these levels for different levels of protection, ranging from 10 to 1,000. (WRI has assumed these flood protection values based on economic and other data and assigned them to all countries listed here.)

Once you adjust for protection capability, the tool pulls up the current flood-related costs based on 2010 data. To continue with the U.S. example, the tool calculates that over the course of a year, urban damage from river floods in the U.S. could amount to $36.8 billion on average. But the 100-year flood protections will have saved an estimated $512 billion in additional damage.

By varying individual factors that drive the impact of floods, such as climate change, population shifts, and urbanization, the tool also projects a range of future scenarios:

Just like it did for urban damage, the tool can calculate the current and future effect of a flood on economic activity (below, top) and population (below, bottom) in the selected region:

Flooding could cost the United States $7 billion in interrupted economic activities. (World Resources Institute)
And 167,000 people could be affected by flooding. (World Resources Institute)

Densely populated cities with rivers running through them are vulnerable to floods for obvious reasons. That's why WRI soon plans to add a data layer that estimates flood risks for the 100 biggest "megacities" around the world. Until that happens, the wonk in you can play around with the present version of the flood risk analyzer tool, here.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Transportation

    How Seattle Bucked a National Trend and Got More People to Ride the Bus

    Three experts in three very different positions weigh in on their city’s ridership success.

  2. Equity

    The Side Pittsburgh Doesn't Want You to See

    Pittsburgh filmmaker Chris Ivey has spent over twelve years documenting the lives of the people displaced so that the city can achieve its “cool” status.  

  3. Construction workers build affordable housing units.
    Equity

    Why Is 'Affordable' Housing So Expensive to Build?

    As costs keep rising, it’s becoming harder and harder for governments to subsidize projects like they’ve done in the past.

  4. Design

    Experimental City: The Sci-Fi Utopia That Never Was

    With solar energy, recycling, computers, and personal mass transit, the 1960s-era Minnesota Experimental City was a prescient and hopeful vision of the urban future. A new documentary tells its story.

  5. People use leaning bars at a bus stop in Brooklyn in 2016.
    Design

    Cities Take Both Sides in the 'War on Sitting'

    Cities are removing benches in an effort to counter vagrancy and crime—at the same time that they’re adding them to make the public realm more age-friendly.