Economically developed countries

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Why are less economically developed countries and more economically developed countries affected differently by flooding, and why are there responses different? Flooding has been a worldwide problem for centuries but in recent years, primarily due to global warming, the effects are becoming more and more hazardous. As a result it becomes important to recognize the significance of flooding and the varied impact it has on people around the world. Flooding affects numerous groups of people every year regardless of their country’s economic status.

However the intensity of the effects of flooding and what is and can be done to prevent them in the short term as well as for the future (long term) is where the difference between less economically developed countries and more economically developed countries becomes evident. For example the Mississippi river is one of the largest in the world; it travels through nine states and collects a large amount of surface run off from a large portion of the North American continent.

When the river flooded in 1993 after two weeks of steady, heavy precipitation there was considerable damage to homes; many people were injured with approximately 50 deaths. However, the damage could have been much worse had the country not responded quickly with evacuation programmes, and the rapid co-ordination of agencies that informed those at risk of the situation. People were contacted by means of technology including Internet and faxes. Even though damage was extensive, by the end of 1993 most of the damaged areas were rebuilt.

The levees and other engineering works were rebuilt along the river and within a few weeks trade up and down the river had resumed. The country had the economic wealth, stability and resources to cope with such disasters quickly and effectively. Overall, though the flood did have short-term effects such as devastation of property and infrastructure, as well as a few long-term effects, for example crop losses and alluvial deposits, it was managed well. Had there not been such a prompt response many more lives would have been lost.

On the other hand Bangladesh, due to its much poorer economic status was not able to cope quite so well. When the country was hit by severe flooding in 1998 over 1,500 people were killed and three quarters of the land surface was submerged under water. It caused the destruction of that year’s rice crop; a serious problem as 80 percent of Bangladesh’s income is generated from agriculture. Millions of people became homeless as the flood plain was densely populated with poorly constructed houses.

The estimated damage to the country’s economy was more than US$140 million. It is clear that the effects and responses to both floods are a result of the two countries’ economic status. North America is an extremely wealthy country and as a result had numerous resources not available to Bangladesh that lessened the effects of flooding. Firstly, due to the national and individual wealth, the United States was able to warn people at risk through various media allowing the population to make adequate preparations for the imminent event.

Whereas in Bangladesh the first people to hear about the flood were probably already waist deep in water. Secondly, America has a secure government that was able to provide large sums of central funding to temporarily re-house people. In addition, the American flood victims were able to rely upon their insurance companies to compensate them for losses and rebuilding costs. National government was also able to pay for the rebuilding of certain areas ruined by the flooding.

Conversely, the government in Bangladesh is still struggling to survive and such a costly clean up operation threw the country into even more debt. Its is clear that in terms of vulnerability, the people of Bangladesh are in greater danger from an event such as flooding on this scale (in terms of the number of people killed) because of poor housing, poor flood warning as well as poor healthcare services (diseases such as malaria and cholera became a huge problem).

Problems that were dealt with in the short term in the United States escalated quickly to become long-term problems in Bangladesh. The unstable government struggled and often fell short with the money needed to repair the effects of the flood on Bangladeshi population and their land. In financial terms, America had a much greater cost burden (the 1993 flood cost $12 billion compared to Bangladesh’s $140 million). Yet, this is offset by America being the richest country in the world and capable of affording such costs.

In terms of the future the United States government set up and conducted a hugely expensive operation that included building many more hard engineered structures such as dams and reservoirs to manage floods from now on. These flood prevention schemes now cost almost $500 million annually. Bangladesh, on the other hand, has little money for effective management programmes. The government is still trying to save up enough to prevent such as disaster from happening again. Proposals include building more embankments along side the river together with storage dams and reservoirs in the Himalayas.

However the Bangladeshi government recognizes that it doesn’t have the money or skilled workers to maintain these structures even if they were built. Immediate solutions involved soft engineering such as afforestation; also they advised farmers on land management, which is cheaper and allowed the population to continue to grow crops on the flood plain. (Less severe floods actually benefit Bangladesh as they result in fertile soil and irrigation, both relied on heavily by the farmers).

However afforestation and other soft-engineered structures can take a long time to work and therefore their effectiveness can be argued. To sum up, it is clear that developed countries have the wealth and resources, such as infrastructure, government assistance, preparation, prediction and insurance to deal with controlling flooding and dealing with the aftermath. They choose to live with the hazard. Less developed countries, due primarily to their unstable economy and rising debt, have little choice regarding flooding hence the risk of disaster is much greater due to a reduced ability to recover.

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