[Malaysia] Flood Impacts across Scales- informing models of flood exposure and vulnerability via an integrated multi-scale approach

Lead Research Organisation: NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Department Name: Hydro-climate Risks


Flooding is a threat to communities in both Malaysia and the UK. Computer modelling is a widely used approach to working out which areas are vulnerable to flooding. This allows government agencies, NGOs and communities to work out how to invest time and resources to protect areas at risk. Understanding of the causes of flooding has increased rapidly in recent years. We now have good data on environmental factors like rain and temperature which can influence where floods will happen. There are now good models of climate change. If we work out where flooding is going to happen, computer models can now be used to work out how flood waters will move around cities and which buildings will flood. One problem that still remains is to include the complexities of real life in these models. We currently assume that the same flood will always lead to the same consequences. This makes models quicker to run, but we know it's not how flooding works. If floods occur just before harvests they can destroy entire crops, but if they occur when fields are empty the costs can be very low. If one flood follows another in quick succession, facilities like hospitals and power stations could remain damaged from the first flood, meaning that the second one has much greater impact on people's lives. With research into how communities are affected by flooding, which takes into account the timing of floods as well as how closely associated they are in time, a genuinely new approach to flood risk could be developed.
Malaysia is a very good place to develop these models. Its economy is developing quickly, so new approaches have the opportunity to be tested in a changing environment. Similarly, climate in Malaysia includes monsoons, which are a good test of model ability for environmental modellers. From a development perspective, Malaysia is a success story which is rapidly transitioning towards developed status, but still has large numbers of people at risk and in large areas, development can be set back by severe floods. Lastly, following severe floods in 2014, there is a renewed interest in developing innovative flood risk approaches in Malaysia.
Our approach to developing a new flood model in Malaysia would make use of the different experts in our group. Bringing together experts from the UK and Malaysia, both of which have invested significantly in flood research in the last decade, would allow us to combine skills from experts with different specialities. Our economists will use economic modelling to understand how different sectors of the economy might change in future and how they might be exposed to flooding. Our group's environmental scientists will use existing computer models of rivers to show where river levels are likely to become high enough to generate flooding. Our flooding engineers will apply new hydraulics models to show how flood waters move once they have left the rivers. Experts in combining computer model outputs will combine each of these into a new model of flood risks. This new model will be used to find the effects of scenarios (factors we can't control such as climate change and increasing urbanisation) and strategies (factors we can control such as new flood defences and warning systems) which will help to evaluate some of these strategies for their effectiveness and value for money. This will allow future flood planning to be better targeted within Malaysia. We hope that Malaysia will act as a good case study for this research and that it would be taken up by other countries in South East Asia and around the world.

Planned Impact

Our research tackles a critical and neglected area of large-scale flood risk assessment: the representation of damage models, including exposure, vulnerability and inundation. Current practice uses simplistic functions of hydrologically modelled depth to infer a single static value for a flood of a given probability. Our goal is to use modern hydrological and hydrodynamic tools to develop and assess a methodology for end-to-end flood risk assessment based on modelling the specific impacts at each location and each time step, from distributed meteorological input through to maps of flood damage. This will allow new representations of seasonality, recurrence effects of flooding and sector-specific consequences to be modelled. Malaysia is an excellent location for this study as it is rapidly developing, although retaining large agricultural sectors and many vulnerable communities. The UK and Malaysia share a common challenge in flood risk and there is a real appetite to exchange research findings and build long term collaborations among agencies, businesses and academics. Our beneficiaries will include: Malaysian citizens. Developing an understanding of current and future flood risk will make the people of Malaysia safer. They will also be less likely to be displaced by floods and to suffer flood-related impacts on their livelihoods through destruction of their homes and businesses. Government Ministries and Agencies, including our project partners the Department for Irrigation and Drainage. Government agencies will be able to identify with greater accuracy how effective their strategic scale flood plans are likely to be. This will allow resources to be more effectively targeted. By providing an improved assessment of new flood mitigation options we can ensure that they are more likely to invest in flood adaptations which are well placed and do not reduce their options for future investment (maladaptation). Research Organisations, including our partners the Regional Humid Tropical Hydrology Centre and NAHRIM. Working closely with our research institute project partners we will provide a forum for integrating their ideas and sharing expertise. Our central model is based on interdisciplinary combination of socio-economic, environmental science and engineering approaches, which we will develop in partnership with these research organisations and similar organisations in their networks. Working collaboratively, we will be able to provide the opportunity to test strategies and scenarios they suggest within our modelling framework. This will result in new connections, new perspectives for them and for us and dialogue across multiple institutes. Academic Community. The research will benefit researchers in hydrology, environmental modelling, hydraulics and hydrodynamics, and socio-economics. It will provide an impetus and mechanism for increased Malaysia-UK academic collaboration, and benefit both communities through increased exchange. The research team has a strong international academic track record and are involved in academic and professional networks which will increase uptake of within the broader academic community.


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