UN map tool shows every flood in the world since 1985

An estimated 1.5 billion people live at risk of exposure to extreme flooding

Samuel Webb
Friday 01 October 2021 21:49
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Car abandoned by motorist during London flood

The United Nations has launched a new tool that generates instant maps showing floods in every country since 1985.

The World Flood Mapping Tool was created by the UN University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health in Hamilton, Canada, with support from Google, MapBox and other partners.

It lets users adjust variables to help locate gaps in flood defences and responses, and to plan future development of all kinds – for example, where to build or upgrade infrastructure, or develop agriculture.

The free tool requires only internet access to obtain a flood map at 30-metre resolution — street-by-street level.

UNU-INWEH director Vladimir Smakhtin said: “Floods in the past decade have impacted the lives of more than half a billion people, mainly in low and middle-income countries, and resulted in damages of nearly US $500 billion, roughly equal to the GDP of Singapore.

“More recent floods worldwide have added to a fast-growing toll of upended lives, damage and deaths.”

He added: “An estimated 1.5 billion people, greater than the population of Europe, live at risk of exposure to intense flooding.

“We need to prepare now for more intense and more frequent floods due to climate change and hope this tool will help developing nations in particular to see and mitigate the risks more clearly.”

Global flooding is a serious and deadly issue

Hamid Mehmood, a GIS and remote sensing specialist at UNU-INWEH who led the tool’s development, said the UNU-INWEH survey showed a majority of flood forecasting centres in flood-prone countries lack the ability to run complex flood forecasting models.

He added that floods like those this year in Europe that killed more than 200 people and caused billions of dollars in damages are now up to nine times more likely because of climate change.

“As temperatures continue to rise, the number of flood events will increase along with their severity,” he said.

“No place is immune. And yet remarkably few regions, even in wealthy countries, have useful, up-to-date flood maps because of the cost and difficulty of creating them.”

The World Flood Mapping Tool uses the Google Earth Engine combined with decades of Landsat data since 1985 – a vast catalogue of geospatial data enabling planet-scale analysis capabilities.

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