BERLIN: Deadly floods that have upended life in both China and Germany have sent a stark reminder that climate change is making weather more extreme across the globe.
At least 35 people in the central Chinese province of Henan have died, including a dozen trapped in a city subway as waters tore through the regional capital of Zhengzhou after days of torrential rain.
Coming after floods killed at least 160 people in Germany and another 31 in Belgium last week, the disaster has reinforced the message that significant changes will have to be made to prepare for similar events in future.
“Governments should first realise that the infrastructure they have built in the past or even recent ones are vulnerable to these extreme weather events,” said Eduardo Araral, associate professor and co-director, Institute of Water Policy, at Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
In Europe, climate change is likely to increase the number of large, slow-moving storms that can linger longer in one area and deliver deluges of the kind seen in Germany and Belgium, according to a study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
As the atmosphere warms with climate change, it also holds more moisture, which means that when rainclouds break, more rain is released. By the end of the century, such storms could be 14 times more frequent, the researchers found in the study using computer simulations.
While the inundation that devastated wide swathes of western and southern Germany occurred thousands of kilometres from the events in Henan, both cases highlighted the vulnerability of heavily populated areas to catastrophic flooding and other natural disasters.
“You need technical measures, bolstering dikes and flood barriers. But we also need to remodel cities,” said Fred Hattermann at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. He said there was increasing focus on so-called “green-adaptation” measures, like polders and plains that can be flooded, to stop water running off too fast.
“But when there’s really heavy rain, all that may not help, so we have to learn to live with it,” he said.
The disasters have followed a period of unusually heavy rain, equivalent in the Chinese case to a year’s rainfall being dumped in just three days, that completely overwhelmed flood defences.