Infrastructure in disasters

Infrastructure in disasters

How can inappropriate infrastructure make conditions during floods and other natural disasters worse?

Flooding is becoming more frequent in both developed and developing countries due to climate change.

The poorest in society are often the most vulnerable to flooding due to inadequate and/or inappropriate shelter and infrastructure, eg poorly constructed housing, poor drainage and sanitation infrastructure, unprotected water and power supplies and inappropriate waste disposal.

In addition to making flooding conditions worse, poor infrastructure can also lead to rapid spread of sanitary related diseases such as cholera during floods.

Case Study: Zambia, 2010

In March 2010, Zambia experienced torrential rains which led to extensive flooding with reports of immense damage to infrastructure, homes and crops.

Due to the heavy rains and poor drainage systems, the water, sanitation, and hygiene situation greatly deteriorated. Shallow wells, a source of drinking water, were contaminated with dirty water from collapsed pit latrines, and the water table rose, worsening the sanitary situation in the affected areas. Consequently there was an outbreak of cholera and other diseases. The worst affected areas in the City of Lusaka were the shanty compounds.
More details

Conventional infrastructure such as piped sewerage and potable water supply networks connected to centralised water and wastewater treatment systems, paved roads, under-road drainage pipes and channels, bridges, combined sewer outfalls, solid waste collection systems etc can be expensive to build and maintain and are not always practical or affordable in a developing country context.

If communities are unable to operate and maintain their infrastructure correctly, it can fall into disrepair, disuse and can exacerbate conditions during floods and other natural disasters.


How can inappropriate infrastructure make conditions during floods and other natural disasters worse?

For a sustainable approach to reducing vulnerability to flooding and other natural disasters


Infrastructure must be robust and resilient against flooding, e.g. water and power supplies should be protected, water supply must be kept separate from wastewater, roads should be suitable to maintain access and egress route in disaster situations.

A community approach to Integrated Flood Risk Management is required – community involvement in decision making is essential.

See card 41 for further suggestions on improving resilience to flooding and adaptation measures.

Take an innovative approach to measures that will speed up recovery following floods, e.g.

  • Provide communities with means of obtaining safe drinking water during and just after floods eg AQUABOX or water tanks and bottles for rainwater harvesting
  • Provide disaster relief training to local organisations to help them plan for disaster situations eg REDR
  • Implement weather monitoring and flood forecasting programmes with community phone trees to disseminate flood warnings quickly and allow communities time to prepare for flooding eg protect their water supplies and move to flood shelters

Further reading

Poverty and Climate Change – Reducing the Vulnerability of the Poor through Adaptation, written for EC (2003)
Sustainable development through integrated flood management, by Vijai K. Mathur and the WMO Secretariat, WMO Bulletin (July 2006)
UN-HABITAT Climate Change Strategy (2010-2013)
WaterAid Technology notes (2008)