Careers Education

Holding back the waters

People struggling to cope with flooded streets in Chennai in 2015.   | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

Flood hazards currently impact approximately 160 million people a year and it is predicted that a staggering 1.6 billion people will be living in flood-prone areas in 2050 (‘The Geography of Future Water Challenges’ Report, 2018). In India, floods account for at least half of the climate-related hazards (Asian Development Bank) with 278 floods affecting 750 million people between 1980 and 2017 (International Disasters Database, EM-DAT, 2018).

Recently, heavy rainfall caused street flooding in Hyderabad and this was attributed to poor drainage systems, a lack of preparation and disaster mitigation, as well as rapid urbanisation and the loss of natural flood retention assets. These factors affect not just India but many other countries across the world. For example, the U.K. has also experienced much recent flooding from heavy rainfall events, with rivers bursting their banks and seas inundating coastlines.

Managing floods

Traditionally, floods have been managed by building large engineering solutions to ‘keep the water out’. Recently, there has been a shift towards recognising the limitations of these costly solutions and led to a new focus on reducing flood consequences and becoming ‘flood resilient’.

The idea behind ‘flood resilience’ is that cities are developed to be able to ‘live with floods’ and endure flooding, with minimal or even no consequences. These efforts include reducing flood risk by using natural systems like sponges to absorb or store water during heavy rainfall events through to improving the design and planning of buildings and cities so that they can handle extreme rainfall, as well as helping communities to prepare and survive flood events.

Training flood-risk managers

Many organisations have high ambitions to create more flood-resilient areas, but currently have too few flood risk managers to achieve this. Therefore, there is a job gap in flood risk management and there are many opportunities to learn the new skills needed. In terms of training, it is advisable to choose a specific course on flood risk management that not focuses only on civil engineering but is also multi-disciplinary and includes innovative natural flood management approaches and links to work with local communities.

Students can work in flood risk management roles directly after their Bachelor’s degree. For those who want further specialist training, a Master’s that provides opportunities to study multidisciplinary approaches will be useful.

Research projects can help connect the theory with practical reality and, when done in collaboration with organisations in the field, will help make professional connections.

Career opportunities

Flood risk managers have roles to play in large international organisations (such as the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank), charities (such as Oxfam International and the Red Cross), and public organisations (such as Rijkswaterstaat in the Netherlands and the Environment Agency in England who have a multi-million pound budgets for flood management). Water authorities, power companies, and advocacy groups (WWF, Friends of the Earth, and Ducks Unlimited) also have roles for those with training in flood risk management.

Furthermore, national and international consultancies are increasingly looking to expand beyond only engineering knowledge of flood management and are seeking experts trained in developing flood resilience.

Choosing to become a specialist in flood-risk management is an exciting career choice that will become even more important as we strive to achieve flood-resilient cities and tackle the urgent societal problem of floods.

The writer is a Lecturer, Flood Hazard & Risk Energy & Environment Institute, University of Hull, the U.K.

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Printable version | Apr 12, 2021 7:11:00 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/holding-back-the-waters/article33888902.ece

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