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Animal protection in disasters: Floods – Part I 

September 2021: Lyzi Cota draws our attention to floods in her next two blogs on protecting animals before, during and after disasters. Here, she compares facts and figures from around the world and distils key guidelines for the onset of a flooding incident

mainpicLosses after floods go beyond human and animal casualties – they can involve environmental, physical, emotional and financial factors that are not easy to recover from. Hence, knowing that floods have accompanied humankind for centuries should be reason enough to take measures to minimise their impact. Image: Grandfailure/123rf

One of the most unpredictable and deadliest natural hazards, floods can cause untold destruction and devastation that can last for weeks, if not months, on end. There are five main types of flood: coastal, river, storm surge, inland and flash flood – all can be extremely dangerous. Weather.gov says that only six inches (approximately 15cm) of fast-moving water can knock over an adult person, twelve inches can carry away most cars and a depth of just two feet (60cm) can sweep SUVs and trucks away.
 
Floods can be further classified in two ways. Slow-rising floods occur when floodwaters move down a river or stream and can often be predicted to reach a certain height, whereas fast-rising flash floods can occur suddenly following extremely heavy rain, melting snow or dam or levee failure. Floods may result in the deaths of animals from hypothermia and drowning, while people might be driven from their homes and suffer subsequent economic, physical and mental health damage.

Facts, figures and info 
According to the American Red Cross, the alert ‘flood/flash watch’ means that a flood or flash flood is possible within a designated watch area. A ‘flood/flash flood warning’ indicates that flooding (or flash flooding) is already in progress oris imminent. This signal may be issued using horns, sirens, door-to-door, radio, television or canvassing by local emergency personnel. Flood watches and warnings can be issued by highway patrol, local police, county flood control district office and the national weather service, or by other local agencies. 
 
According to reports, there were 124 flood events recorded across 385 locations in more than 20 countries during July 2021. Some of the most affected countries by floods up to date are Brazil, Australia, Mexico, the United States, Belgium, Germany, Panama, India, Afghanistan, Colombia, Pakistan, Iran, Yemen, Japan, Costa Rica, Nepal, Tajikistan, El Salvador, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Bangladesh, to name some.
 
The Chief Scientist researching on behalf of Australia’s Queensland Government reports floods as the country’s most expensive natural disaster. Estimated direct costs from 1967 to 2005, average 377 million Australian dollars per year.
 
In the US, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says that from 1980 up to July 9, 2021, there have been 35 flooding events each with losses exceeding $1 billion across the country. 
 
The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that between 1998 and 2017, floods affected more than two billion people worldwide and that between 80 and 90 per cent of all documented disasters from natural hazards during the past ten years have resulted from floods, droughts, tropical cyclones, heatwaves and severe storms. It is also worth noting that 75 per cent of deaths in floods are caused by drowning. The WHO states: “The magnitude of the physical and human costs from floods can be reduced if adequate emergency prevention, preparedness, response and recovery measures are implemented in a sustainable and timely manner.” 
 
Risk evaluation
Each country has different systems to evaluate flood risks and alert citizens through their local or state civil protection entities. Sadly, coverage does not always reach isolated communities in developing countries that lack technology and/or power.

  • Globally: An additional tool for more international locations with maps for river, urban and coastal floods for Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania can be found here. The site also identifies risks from several other natural hazards such as landslide, wildfires and heatwaves.
  • In the US: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) states: “The FEMA Flood Map Service Center (MSC) is the official public source for flood hazard information produced in support of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).”
  • In Australia: The Flood Warning Services co-operates with other government agencies such as territory or state emergency management agencies, local councils and water authorities, co-ordinated through Flood Warning Consultative Committees, to establish co-operative working arrangements in each territory or state. While many factors contribute to floods, their main cause is rainfall. The advice is to verify if your area has any history of flooding and prepare an emergency flood action plan accordingly.
  • In Europe: The European Flood Awareness System (EFAS) aims to: “Support preparatory measures before major flood events strike, particularly in the large trans-national river basins and throughout Europe in general.”
  • In Latin America, the Pacific, Africa and Asia: According to the UN, Early Warning Systems (EWS), or Sistemas de Alerta Temprana (SAT), are a climate change adaptation measure that use integrated communication systems to help communities prepare for climate-related hazards.
  • Floods will continue to be a threat with varying levels of destruction. Nevertheless, preparedness is vital to minimise loses and to provide more effective protection for animals, humans and economic concerns. 

Sharing best practices and experiences with other countries helps to develop a preparedness culture. It is key to acknowledge that no warning system – even the most sophisticated one – can be 100 per cent effective if people do not take the warnings into account and evacuate on time to protect themselves and their animals.
 
In Part II, Lyzi will outline how to help animal owners to prepare, respond and recover from floods.

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