Thu, Sep 27, 2018 - Page 9 News List

As typhoons get stronger, Asia must build better, experts say

With the destructive power of storms increasing by 50%, incorporating resilience into infrastructure is critical to reducing typhoon damage

By Michael Taylor  /  Thomson Reuters Foundation, KUALA LUMPUR

Illustration: Mountain People

Population growth, rapid urbanization and unfettered development of coastal areas in the Asia-Pacific region are increasing the risk of heavy damage from powerful typhoons, experts say.

They have urged governments and the private sector to collaborate on improving urban planning, protecting mangroves and developing “sponge cities” that can absorb water and prevent flooding.

“[Cities] need to move from unplanned urbanization to planned urbanization,” Loretta Hieber Girardet, chief of Asia-Pacific at the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction in Bangkok, said on Friday last week. “They need to plan urban growth — and that’s not happening in Asia to the extent that it needs to happen.”

Over the past 40 years, natural disasters have cost the Asia-Pacific region about US$1.3 trillion, according to UN estimates, with China, the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan worst-hit by typhoons.

The latest major storm, Typhoon Mangkhut, left a trail of destruction in both rural and urban areas of the northern Philippines, Hong Kong and southern China last week.

Asia has to deal with an average of 29 to 30 typhoons each year, but fatalities have fallen with better weather forecasting, early warning systems and public awareness campaigns.

However, since the late 1970s, storms making landfall have become 15 percent more intense and their destructive power has increased by about 50 percent, Hieber Girardet said.

“Exposure is increasing and intensity of the hazard is increasing, and combined — these two — mean that the risk is increasing,” she said.

This year, more than half of Asia-Pacific’s population would be urban for the first time in history and that figure would rise to two-thirds by 2050, the UN estimates.

The damage from typhoons can be mitigated through improved urban planning, which would draw upon available data on recurrent natural disasters, mapping and understanding the risks to cities, experts said.

Both the private and public sectors can build resilience into infrastructure and developments to ensure they are able to withstand the impact and aftermath of typhoons, including flooding, damage to structures and high winds.

The region will need to invest US$26 trillion from 2016 to 2030 in infrastructure in order to maintain its economic growth, tackle poverty and respond to climate change, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Incorporating resilience into infrastructure projects pushes costs up by only 2 to 4 percent, Hieber Girardet said, adding that the increased cost should be seen as an investment in the future.

Technology can also play a role in tackling problems like excess rainfall — as seen in a pilot “sponge city” project in Wuhan, a flood-prone metropolis in central China.

Arcadis, a Dutch engineering and consultancy company, began the decade-long project in 2016, which incorporates sustainable drainage systems into infrastructure development. These include a type of water-absorbing asphalt, as well as green spaces to help stop water from pooling.

City authorities should also build more parks, bolster flood defenses and levees, and develop berms in flood-prone areas, said John Batten, an Arcadis director in Hong Kong.

The berms can have the added benefit of creating green spaces where people can enjoy leisure time, which also pay for themselves as developers are more likely to invest in such areas and boost tax revenues, he added.

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