From: Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
Published October 14, 2007 05:53 AM

Five Asian nations to study flood, climate risks

OSLO (Reuters) - A new U.N. course will help five Asian nations cope with a predicted worsening of floods due to climate change that may threaten cities from Beijing to Hanoi, the U.N. University said on Sunday.

Experts from China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Nepal and Sri Lanka would take part from November in a three-month course run by the U.N. University in Thailand to help map risks of downpours, rivers breaking their banks and rising sea levels.

If successful, the course could be expanded to other regions.

"Catastrophic floods may become much more common," Srikantha Herath, senior academic officer at the U.N. University in Tokyo, told Reuters. "Asia suffers most from floods of all the regions and we want to prepare for what may happen."

The courses, gathering two-four experts from each nation, would identify risks of floods, potential economic damage, and help work out everything from better designs for dykes to better weather forecasts and flood warnings.

Flooding linked to monsoon rains killed more than 3,000 people and affected more than 100 million people in south Asia this year with damage to property estimated in the billions of dollars, the U.N. University said.

Many cities such as Beijing could be flooded under certain storm conditions, it said. Global warming, mainly blamed on human burning of fossil fuels that releases greenhouse gases, is likely to be making matters worse.

 

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The course would examine examples such as a 1991 storm in the Philippines that dumped 50 cm (20 inches) of rain in six hours on Ormoc City, the Philippines, killing 5,000 people.

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, caused by an earthquake, highlighted other flood risks unrelated to climate change.

"The time to assess the risk to people and property, especially in large urban centres, and to act on that information is now," said Janos Bogardi, the vice rector of the U.N. University which groups academics around the world.

The courses might also be of interest in rich nations, especially after Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans in the United States in 2005.

Studies by the U.N.'s climate panel, awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore on Friday, project more floods, more powerful storms and a rise in sea levels of up to 59 cms (two feet) this century.

Among ideas are that cities should have systems that would, for instance, channel flood waters that topped dykes into low-lying parks or other areas where it would do least damage, Herath said.

And a small ramp or a couple of steps up from street level around stairs down to metro stations could help protect subways.

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