New Flood Risk Prediction Tool to Help “Map” Out Disaster Mitigation Plans

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Easy to understand visualization of flood risk could enable informed and scientific sustainable planning by policy makers and vulnerable communities.

Flood risk prediction and mitigation could help avoid tragedy when disaster strikes. But how do you know which areas need preventative measures the most? A new online tool developed by researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, India, can answer that. The first tool of its kind to account for geographic variations in socioeconomic vulnerability, the accessible, easy-to-use WebFRIS interface, has the potential to help local government and citizens save lives and protect livelihoods.

`India reports the second-highest flood damages in the world, with over 1600 people affected by floods annually. Uncontrolled growth, poor planning and infrastructure, and the effects of climate change have left the nation ill-equipped to handle disasters. In recent years, the frequency and severity of floods has increased, making it even more important to adopt new measures and strengthen existing ones for flood prevention.

The key to flood prevention is obtaining accurate and timely flood risk information. Webbased platforms are ideal for this purpose because they are inexpensive, reliable, and instantaneously available even in remote areas. However, most existing web-based flood information systems use highly technical jargon that is geared towards researchers. This is a major problem in countries with low literacy levels. Furthermore, these portals do not account for socio-economic vulnerability either, a factor that is paramount for infrastructure planning involving rural societies. Understanding the urgent need for an accessible online tool, researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, India, have developed WebFRIS, the first flood risk information system to provide socio-economic vulnerability analysis. Published in Journal of Environmental Management, WebFRIS, or Web Flood Risk Information System, aims to simplify flood risk information and disseminate it to a wide audience, including governmental bodies and local citizens. According to Professor Subhankar Karmakar from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, India, who led the study that formed part of the PhD work of the first author, Dr. Mohit Mohanty, “WebFRIS provides precious ground-level information to the disaster management authority. This will enable formulation of more targeted solutions and strategies and enhance the opportunity for effective flood mitigation, thereby increasing social capacity and resilience.”

Flood risk consists of two components—hazard and vulnerability. Hazard accounts for factors like regional rainfall, flood inundation, and weather phenomena such as cyclones, whereas vulnerability includes both physical vulnerability and socio-economic vulnerability. For the development of WebFRIS, Prof. Karmakar and his team focused on Jagatsinghpur, a district in the Indian state of Odisha. Jagatsinghpur—a part of the Mahanadi River delta—is one the most severely flood-affected regions in the country. The lack of on-ground hydrological and meteorological information for risk prediction and modeling in Jagatsinghpur has ensured that, despite a plethora of flood management measures, the district has been unable to combat the impacts of flooding. Prof. Karmakar and team first used mathematical models and statistical data to calculate the flood hazard and vulnerability of the region and quantify flood risk. They then designed a web platform to store and visualize all the flood-related data in the form of maps. Finally, to ensure that nontechnical audiences could easily understand the data, they translated the measures of flood risk into qualitative information, classifying the risk into color-coded categories from very low to very high. Their efforts have resulted in a powerful, interactive, user-friendly web tool that can provide data on flood hazard, socioeconomic vulnerability, and flood risk for individual villages in the Jagatsinghpur district. WebFRIS is expected to impart crucial knowledge on flood risk management to local governmental bodies, town planners, flood experts, and even general citizens. Moreover, the generic nature of the platform means that it can also be applied to study inter-related issues such as environmental protection, landuse planning, and community resilience building. “WebFRIS is an effective planning tool for environmental management. Using WebFRIS can help make decisions on whether to invest in infrastructure, residential buildings, or farming, and elucidates the anticipated risk of each choice,” says Prof. Karmakar.

The concept and framework behind WebFRIS can be adapted to design similar platforms for other flood prone regions of the world. By moving the focus away from flood forecasting to long-term flood risk management, tools like WebFRIS not only help save lives, but they also help prevent economic damage and work towards the upliftment of vulnerable communities. “If we integrate flood risk maps in early warning systems, communities that live in high-alert regions can be prioritized during flooding, which will enhance the community’s preparedness for natural hazards in the long run,” concludes Prof. Karmakar.

This is certainly welcome news for an annually flood-ravaged nation like India.