Shanghai ‘Most vulnerable to coastal floods,’ Study Finds

August 21, 2012 4:44 pm Last Updated: October 1, 2015 12:34 pm
People walk along the Bund as storm clouds gather over the Huangpu River in Shanghai on August 2, 2012.  (Peter Parks/AFP/GettyImages)
People walk along the Bund as storm clouds gather over the Huangpu River in Shanghai on August 2, 2012. (Peter Parks/AFP/GettyImages)

Shanghai, the largest city in China and one of the largest in the world, has been named as the most vulnerable city to major coastal flooding in a new study.

In the study, published by the journal Natural Hazards, Shanghai beat out the likes of Manila—said to be sinking at a yearly rate—and Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh and a much more impoverished city. Shanghai is a major financial center and is sometimes called China’s commercial hub, with the busiest container port in the world.

“Of the nine cities examined, Shanghai, in China, is most vulnerable to coastal floods overall,” the study reads, adding that it is highly “exposed to hydrogeological factors such as storm surge and sea-level rise” while it has a ” high length of coastline and high value of river discharge.”

In recent months, areas in China have experienced widespread flooding due to heavy rains, including in Beijing, where dozens were killed. Many Internet users blamed the Beijing floods partially on poor infrastructure caused by government corruption.

Two weeks ago, Typhoon Haikui slammed Shanghai and forced around 200,000 people to relocate to temporary housing, state-run media reported. Several people were killed.

Meanwhile, around two weeks ago, a section of the Great Wall collapsed after rains, with some reports suggesting that nearby construction was a factor.

In the study, researchers from the Netherlands and the University of Leeds, England, used new methods to calculate flood vulnerability, not just the likelihood of a “once in a hundred years’ flood.” They also factored in social and economic aspects.

“Vulnerability is a complex issue,” Leeds professor Nigel Wright, who led the study, said in a press release. “It is not just about your exposure to flooding, but the effect it actually has on communities and business and how much a major flood disrupts economic activity.”

“Our index looks at how cities are prepared for the worst–for example, do they have flood defenses, do they have buildings that are easy to clean up and repair after the flood? It is important to know how quickly a city can recover from a major flood.”

Shanghai, the study found, is especially poorly prepared against strong storm surges as sea levels rise. Meanwhile, a large number of people live along the coast there in areas subject to flooding.

“A one-in-100 year flood in Shanghai would lead to widespread damage, with serious consequences for the city, across China and, through wider economic links, for the whole world,” Wright said.

The study evaluated nine cities, finding that the European cities of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and Marseille in France are the best-prepared.

“When a big flood hits, you will still get flooding,” Wright noted, “but these European cities will bounce back quickly.”

Dhaka, which sits only a few feet above the sea and is subject to regular cyclones and floods, has poor defenses against flooding, the study found.

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