Sink or Swim? – How do we Staunch Flooding?
Rick Oswald is a farmer who may have remained relatively anonymous if he had not been in the firing line of an extreme weather event.
It was in 2019 that Rick made international news when his farm in Langdon, Missouri, was devastated by immense flooding. Although Rick had experienced flooding before, he saw his house, which had stood for 80 years, damaged by flood water. Such events are financially, emotionally and physically taxing. In Rick’s case, there may have been added frustration, as he was already implementing sustainable farming methods. As the fifth generation of his Langdon home, Rick has seen how a family’s heritage can be easily uprooted and washed away.
Rick’s experience is one of many farmers whose environmentally conscious efforts have been somewhat in vain. Across the Globe, extreme flooding events are increasing. Vast swathes of European farmland were rendered useless for 2021 harvests. Since June this year, Pakistan has been hit by its worst floods this century, with over 1500 deaths and leaving millions in urgent need of help. On an individual and small scale, it is clear that farmers cannot mitigate these types of flooding. To fully harness agriculture’s risk management potential, external support is needed.
For the most part, governments turn to man-made solutions to handle flooding. Unfortunately, these solutions are ineffective long-term. Overall they worsen climate change.
- Limit nutrients entering ecosystems
- Block carbon absorption in wetlands
- Increase wastewater contamination
An Ecological Approach
For agricultural practices to change, incentivising farmers in the areas below and guaranteeing aid whilst transitioning is necessary.
- Sustainable forestry practices (particularly in floodplains)
- Diversified crop rotation
- Inclusion of fibrous crops with deep root systems
- Reduce industrial level animal agriculture
Our wetlands provide an array of remedies to the human cause. Protecting our communities from flooding, shoreline erosion and enhancing water quality. When floods strike, wetlands act as massive sponges. What merely seems a swamp can save a city millions in damages.
Wetlands have bred inspiration for some, like landscape architect Kongjian Yu. After completing studies at Harvard University, US, Kongjian returned to China and began designing cities that included natural resilience measures. This system involves allowing wetlands to flow through and around cities. In the summer, they are used for recreation; during flood seasons, walkways are submerged. This design also offers sanctuary from intense city life.
Kongjian also desires to phase out concrete in our building systems. His voice is one of many among experts. Conventional building techniques intensify climate change. For urban life to thrive in flood risk zones, natural building systems must replace CO2 spewing methods. A demand for green materials in urban areas can increase farmland drainage. Fibrous crops, timber and bamboo, have proven their sturdiness in homes and powerful preservative properties in agriculture. These materials will become the norm. But until then, our food systems and built infrastructures are at increased risk of total collapse.
The sooner divisions between wild, rural and urban are diminished, the greater our chance of mitigating extreme climatic events.
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