HR Wallingford and a study in climate preparedness: How do we weather the storm?
Sai Shreya Sunkara
Image description: A dam holding back a body of water
In the past month alone, flash floods and torrential rain swept through Spain, Mexico, Colombia, Guinea, Pakistan, Nigeria, Thailand, and Slovenia. Two hurricanes hit the United States this summer and left devastation in their wake. Flooding events turned deadly in China and Germany late this summer. In February of this year in the United States, Texas, a traditionally warm region, experienced a historic winter storm and arctic outbreak. These temperatures, which may have been considered insignificant to those who are accustomed, were devastating for Texans. With an energy grid carefully safeguarded against high heat conditions, Texas was unequipped to handle this extreme in the other direction.
Our global climate crisis has brought with it plenty of small-scale regional calamities. As we navigate these issues and attempt to make bigger, long-term changes, we also need to figure out how to make it through in the meantime. But how do we prepare our communities, infrastructures, and people for weather events that may be unlike anything we have encountered?
Understanding how these issues behave is the first step; understanding how to solve them is the next.
To put in place the structures and systems we need when disaster strikes, we first need to understand how these weather events work and act. HR Wallingford, a research and consultant nonprofit just outside of Oxford, works in the business of water. Their work in understanding and solving problems related to water spans across many niches and disciplines, including river engineering, coast management, flood management, desalination processes, mining, and climate resilience, to name only a few.
Understanding how these issues behave is the first step; understanding how to solve them is the next. HR Wallingford works in both. One area of focus is flood management. Flooding, one of the most common and deadly natural disasters, is only aggravated by temperature shifts and rising sea levels, thereby affecting a wide array of ecosystems and populations.
Wallingford’s Moldova Flood Protection Project is an interesting case study in local management and preventative mitigation. Strategies, including flood risk assessment and mapping, dam break assessments, and management initiatives, were applied to assess and mitigate flood risk on a national level. However, a particularly notable element of this project was outside of the water expertise realm. The firm aided the Moldova Department of Education in properly using the modelling and data systems to conduct assessments themselves. Equipping local and national governments to monitor and predict flood events is an excellent model in disseminating knowledge to create a broader safety net of flood protection.
Leaving aid and support to after climate events have already occurred is costly in terms of funds, but more importantly, in terms of lives and livelihoods
The firm also has notable work in natural flood management, utilising natural processes to mitigate flood risk impacts. Factors such as vegetation growth, debris dams, shifts in agricultural practices, and hedgerows work to reduce flood risk, but do so while building stronger, more adaptable ecosystems. HR Wallingford notes that individually these practices may not be deeply impactful, but in conjunction they can be transformative, both in terms of mitigating foods, as well as revolutionising our approach to climate event preparedness. Designing these measures to supplement one another and build resiliency is transformative to our perspective of how to protect our infrastructures.
Climate disaster events disproportionately affect those in poverty, who are often without means to protect themselves or relocate when the unimaginable strikes. Leaving aid and support to after climate events have already occurred is costly in terms of funds, but more importantly, in terms of lives and livelihoods. HR Wallingford brings forth a new way of thinking in how to protect our people. This framework of preventative evaluation and preparation, combined with local education and the manipulation of natural processes themselves, would allow cities, states, and countries to efficiently equip themselves to tackle an ever-growing risk of climate catastrophes.