Floating out of flood disasters


This blog article has been produced for Eye on Earth Summit 2011 by SciDev.Net Conference Service, which maintains all editorial independence.

In his speech at the Eye on Earth summit this week (12–15 December), former US president Bill Clinton highlighted how houses on stilts promoted by the movie star Brad Pitt can help prepare for natural disasters.

If hurricanes like Katrina was to hit areas where these houses are built, most of them would withstand the flooding, he said.

“For me, prevention is a very important part of disaster preparation and response,” he said.

Some of the amphibious houses of New Orleans also inspired an ambitious architectural project on so called ‘lift houses,’ which built its first pilot houses in Bangladesh last year. The idea is that when the floods hit, the houses would simply lift up on stilts and float until the floods subdue. Another similar idea, ‘tsunami safe(r) house’ originated from MIT’s Senseable City Lab following the devastating 2004 tsunami and was later implemented in Sri Lanka. In this case the houses were designed to suffer minimal damage in the floods.

The Bill Clinton Foundation was involved in post-disaster relief efforts, such as after the Haiti earthquake, which fits with one of the key themes of the summit  disaster management.

But just how much better planning  based on greater access to environmental and societal data  may help cut losses varies from disasters to disaster, he said. Better early warning systems can help, but disasters such as last year’s earthquake in Haiti should also prompt everybody to look at their building standards.

“We are now rebuilding all the houses with hurricane and earthquake resistant buildings, and we’re trying to make them more energy efficient and more energy independent so if there is another natural disaster that paralyses the grid, they would still be able to light their homes at nights so the children can study and parents can work, or do whatever they want to do.”

He also said research has shown that in the New Orleans area, where much of the natural vegetation forming the wetlands was cleared over the past 30 years of coastal over-development, vegetation could had cut the water speed by half and potentially cut damages casued by Katrina by a whopping 90 per cent.

Mićo Tatalović

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