Hurricane Harvey is more than climate change, says Simply Sustainable CEO, Nicola Stopps
Hurricane Harvey which has shattered longstanding weather records would have spelled disaster for just about any city in its wake, as parts of Houston received half their annual rainfall in just a few days. This devastating event must give lessons for policymakers and leaders about how to protect citizens in an era of rising disaster risks related to population growth, aging infrastructure and climate change. But for me as a sustainability professional, the tragedy we are seeing on the news goes beyond climate change to wider societal issues.
Houston has unfortunately been vulnerable to tropical storms and hurricanes because it is low-lying, rapidly growing, and if you remember it has had to endure other natural disasters in the past like Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, which killed 41 and caused $9 billion in damage, as well as flooding in 2016 that shut down the city for days. But are you also aware that Houston’s infrastructure flaws and extraordinary vulnerability to hurricanes were actually detailed in an investigative report published last year by ProPublica and the Texas Tribune? According to that report, since 2010, more than 7,000 residential buildings were built in 100-year floodplains within Harris County, which includes Houston. In addition, about 1,600 non-residential buildings were also built in these areas. What can I say about this decision?!
Yes, climate change may have played a part in the recent devastation but reducing the flood risk in vulnerable cities like Houston or in other cities elsewhere, needs sustained investments in a city’s infrastructure. This means taking into account the fact that the climate is changing (the first hurdle), and the next is to initiate long-term planning and investment. We all know that this doesn’t always happen immediately or easily on the political playing field. But I know millions like me who are watching the news unfurl every day are keeping our fingers crossed that it will in this case.
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