Updated: Sep 29, 2021
Image 1. A dike protects the homes of fisherfolk living along the Angat River.
Image credit: Pamela Cajilig
Increasing urbanisation and intensifying climate change lead to more extreme weather events, including increased flooding. When cities and regions attempt to address flooding, the usual recourse is to rely on hard-structural solutions with impermeable surfaces such as seawalls and breakwaters. However, there are other flood-risk management measures that center our dependence on ecological relations - including nature-based solutions (NbS).
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, NbS are “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.” An NbS approach flooding recognises that not all flooding is bad. Many agricultural and fisher societies depend on a certain degree of flooding to eliminate pollutants in their crops or to stimulate the migration of fish spawns for their day's catch. Nature-based flood risk management assumes that we need to work with nature - rather than control it.
NbS include, among other things, revegetation (not just reforestation - grass is important as trees in managing flood!), wetland conservation, and coastal habitat rehabilitation - very important for an archipelagic country like the Philippines in which 60% of the population lives along the country' coasts. NbS greatly values biodiversity. In managing flood risk, we need to make sure that the flora and fauna on which we depend on for our food supply, protection from storms, waste management, energy, raw materials and countless other ecosystem services - survive.
There is growing public recognition of the significance of nature-based solutions. And it has been a privilege to be able to spread the word about the importance of NbS to flood risk management through WWF USA's Flood Green Guide programme. As a training facilitator for the programme, I was part of a team that took South and Southeast Asian urban planners, hydraulic engineers, and NGO managers through the basics of NbS. The training advocates for prioritising of NbS and non-structural solutions (such as policy development and early warning) to diversify the approach to flood risk management away from solely relying on hard structural solutions. Through the use of case studies, we took participants through the pros and cons of each flood risk management approach and the intricacies of flood risk management in general. I went through the training myself as a participant- a five day version in Chiang Mai during pre-Covid times. It was an adjustment to switch to online training, but we pulled and through and received encouraging feedback from our participants.
Our training was completed on the day Super Typhoon Ulysses battered and flooded large parts of the Philippines - a disaster that raised questions about the way we value our watersheds as a protection against "natural" hazards. We're looking to do NbS training for the Philippines because of this.
Watch this space if you'd like to learn more about protecting the environment as a solution to disaster!