New report aims to better prepare Canadians for climate related disasters

Mar 04, 2019

Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation presents practical and cost-effective solutions for Canada’s pressing climate issues 

We have reached a new level of financial and social costs incurred after natural disaster events in Canada. These costs have now gone beyond historical levels. Reaching this worrisome milestone should be enough to make all Canadians feel at the very least, uncomfortable. Unfortunately, we haven’t peaked yet. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts continued global warming and increased global frequency of heavy precipitation events in the 21st century, with Canada to warm faster than the global average and experience more frequent and severe weather. With flooding placed firmly at the top of the list of costly catastrophes in Canada, the Intact Centre for Climate Adaptation’s latest report could not have arrived at a better time.

The report, titled Weathering the Storm: Developing a Canadian Standard for Flood Resilient Existing Communities, presents detailed analysis of the rise in climate related disasters, and the financial and emotional fall-out triggered by Canada’s most prevalent disaster: flooding. The report also identifies the types of flooding and the flood risk reduction approaches for municipalities, communities and residents to take. Preparing and protecting our communities from disaster is everyone’s responsibility.

Alarming numbers: federal level disaster assistance

Between 1970 and 2015, Public Safety Canada reports a dramatic increase of the number of natural disasters for which provinces and territories required and obtained federal assistance under the Disaster Assistance Arrangements (DFAA). The DFAA’s spending on flooding was estimated at 75% of all weather related claims. The Office of the Auditor General of Canada noted that from 2009 to 2015, the DFAA’s compensation to provinces and territories was greater than all of the previous 39 fiscal years combined.

More alarming numbers: property and casualty payouts

Some sobering numbers from the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) determined water related losses are responsible for significant increases to property and casualty (P&C) payouts over the last thirty years. Payouts have doubled every five to 10 years since the 1980s. Between 1983 and 2008, P&C payouts in Canada average $405 million per year. Each year after 2008, leading up to 2017 saw insurance payouts for catastrophic losses increase to $1.8 billion per year.

Rising number of class action lawsuits

  Many British Columbians may not be aware of a flood-related, class action lawsuit brought forward by 15 households in Maple Ridge BC against the municipality, the developer, the contractor and the engineering firms. The flood occurred in 2010. Almost a decade later, this case is still ongoing. Weathering the Storm provides examples of other class action lawsuits ongoing in practically every province across Canada.

Impact on mental health

The alarming numbers listed above, coupled with the increase in lawsuits would indicate that right now, a vast number of Canadians are suffering through some extremely stressful situations. Anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and general mental distress are mental health conditions that are almost all but guaranteed to manifest in the wake of a flood. 

A 2017 study of 200 Montreal households, post flooding, found that almost 70 percent of respondents reported having suffered from anxiety, sleep disturbances, and concentration problems.

A 2013 High River, Alberta study found a 164 percent increase in the use of anti-anxiety medication and a 232 percent increase in the use of sleeping aids for women after devastating flooding. High River was one of the worst hit areas.

The Intact Centre studied 100 households in flood-affected neighbourhoods of Southern Ontario in 2018, and confirmed the finding of mental distress. Nearly 50 percent of households that experienced a flood, are significantly worried about flooding, every time it rains. The study also found that homeowners, on average, missed seven days of work following the flood event.

Minor flood to major event

The average cost of a basement flood in Canada is $ 40,000. Household members can expect to experience general mental distress, economic disruption, physical property damage, health and safety issues and displacement. A homeowner will be taking time away from work to manage the water damage, will most likely have to find temporary lodgings due to health and safety concerns during cleanup and restoration. 

Now, imagine what would happen after a major flooding event. The Fraser Basin Council of Vancouver, BC did just that. Their recent study states if there was a major flood in the Lower Mainland between now and the year 2100, it would trigger economic losses estimated between $20-30 billion dollars, making it the largest disaster in Canadian history. Although the Fraser Basin Council based the study on the type of major flooding event that occurs once every five hundred years, we shouldn’t consider that too far-fetched nowadays with climate related natural disasters on the rise in Canada.

Flood risk reduction approaches, proactive risk strategies

As important as it is to spell out the devastating impact flooding has on communities all over Canada, the Weathering the Storm Report’s intent is to assist in developing a Canadian Standard for flood risk reduction. The Intact Centre for Climate Adaptation has prepared a comprehensive guide for all levels of government, businesses and homeowners to understand and get involved in flood risk reduction.

For example, riverine flooding (fluvial flooding) occurs when water levels in watercourses rise and spill over their banks. Riverine flooding can be caused by extreme rainfall, snow-melt, ice build-up and debris jams: weather conditions seen in most all of Canada. Flood risk approaches to apply to reduce the risk of riverine flooding include: 

  • Proactive maintenance of culverts, bridges and other flood control structures
  • Proactive vegetation management along watercourses including debris removal
  • Flood proofing properties adjacent to watercourses by installing floodwalls and berms, re-grading lots and encouraging homeowners/ business owners to elevate electrical equipment above potential flood levels

Other flood types detailed in the report include overland flooding (pluvial flooding) when storm water overflows over private properties and into residential basements, storm or sanitary sewer back-ups causing surcharge to back up into basements, and foundation system failure with water entering basements via foundation drains and/or seeping through foundation drains. With all of these types of floods comes approaches to implement to help reduce the risk of flooding and the subsequent damage. Valve tightening, seal replacement, sump pump and sump pump back-up systems installation, storm water diversion pipes are just some of the flood risk reduction approaches recommended in the report.

Proactive standards can help reduce:

  • Individual and community costs to infrastructure
  • Time off work to deal with flood remediation
  • Stress related to flooding and restoration
  • Loss of assets and income generation

Flood and water damage affects our communities in far reaching ways. We need to be prepared as climate change is real and impactful. 

Case study: YVR Airport included in Climate Risks and Adaptation Practices for the Canadian Transport Sector

Located on Sea Island in Richmond, BC, Canada’s second busiest airport knows all too well the importance of risk reduction approaches to flooding; it’s a low-lying island surrounded by the Fraser River and the Pacific Ocean. A perfect scenario for studies conducted by the Fraser Basin Council and Natural Resources Canada.

The Vancouver Airport Authority (VAA)  addresses the potential for flooding with comprehensive diking, stormwater management and a flood box pumping system that spans across Sea Island. The airport authority is also preparing for the future by heavily investing in resources to raise dikes to 4.7 metres above mean sea level. This is a multi-year program to safeguard the airport, the employees and passengers for years to come. 

The VAA is a partner of the Lower Mainland Flood Management Strategy and is also aligned with Environment and Climate Change Canada. Of course, most Canadians are not running households and properties the size of an international airport. We too, can partner with our local community leaders and homeowners associations to raise awareness and address potential flooding and other climate-related issues. And above all else, we can download a PDF copy of ICCA’s report, Weathering the Storm to remain informed and better prepared for the future. 

Resources

Weathering the Storm Report

Natural Resources Canada: Climate Change and Impact Adaptation

Climate Risks and Adaptation Practices for the Canadian Transport Sector

Fraser basin Council

About the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation

The Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation is an applied research centre at the University of Waterloo. Founded in 2015 with a gift from Intact Financial Corporation, Canada’s largest property and casual insurer. The Intact centre helps homeowners, communities and businesses to reduce risks associated with climate change and extreme weather events.

Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation website

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