The interplay between structural flood protection, population density, and flood mortality along the Jamuna River, Bangladesh

Reg Environ Change. 2020;20(1):5. doi: 10.1007/s10113-020-01600-1. Epub 2020 Feb 3.


Levees protect floodplain areas from frequent flooding, but they can paradoxically contribute to more severe flood losses. The construction or reinforcement of levees can attract more assets and people in flood-prone area, thereby increasing the potential flood damage when levees eventually fail. Moreover, structural protection measures can generate a sense of complacency, which can reduce preparedness, thereby increasing flood mortality rates. We explore these phenomena in the Jamuna River floodplain in Bangladesh. In this study area, different levels of flood protection have co-existed alongside each other since the 1960s, with a levee being constructed only on the right bank and its maintenance being assured only in certain places. Primary and secondary data on population density, human settlements, and flood fatalities were collected to carry out a comparative analysis of two urban areas and two rural areas with different flood protection levels. We found that the higher the level of flood protection, the higher the increase of population density over the past decades as well as the number of assets exposed to flooding. Our results also show that flood mortality rates associated with the 2017 flooding in Bangladesh were lower in the areas with lower protection level. This empirical analysis of the unintended consequences of structural flood protection is relevant for the making of sustainable policies of disaster risk reduction and adaptation to climate change in rapidly changing environments.

Keywords: Bangladesh; Flood risk management; Levee effect;; Socio-hydrology;.