New online tool offers up-to-date flood maps around the world


According to a press release from United Nations University, experts led by the United Nations University have launched a new tool that has generated instant and accurate maps of floods around the world since 1985. The free online map generator will help all countries, but especially those in the South, where Flood risk maps are scarce and often largely outdated, but population growth and urbanization are accelerating.

Created by the United Nations University at Hamilton Institute for Water, Environment and Health, Canada, with the support of Google, MapBox and other partners, the tool allows users to adjust variables to help locate gaps in flood defenses and responses, and to plan future development of all kinds – for example, where to build or where to put upgrade infrastructure, or develop agriculture.

Simple to use, the Global Flood Mapping Tool only requires internet access to get a flood map at a resolution of 30 meters. The interactive map allows users to select areas of interest from a grid spanning the entire globe, showing population density, land use and areas inundated during flooding over the past 35 years. A future version for more commercial uses, for example by insurance companies, will offer even more precise resolution.

According to the director of the institute Dr Vladimir Smakhtine“The floods of the past decade have impacted the lives of more than half a billion people, mostly in low- and middle-income countries, and caused damage of nearly $ 500 billion. More recent floods around the world have added to an increasing number of lives, damages and deaths. “

“An estimated 1.5 billion people, more than the European population, are at risk of severe flooding. We need to prepare now for more intense and frequent flooding due to climate change and hope that this tool will help developing countries in particular to see and mitigate risks more clearly. “

Dr Hamid Mehmood, a GIS and remote sensing specialist who led the development of the tool, says a survey has shown that a majority of flood forecasting centers in flood-prone countries lack the capacity to run complex flood forecasting models.

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

“As temperatures continue to rise, the number of flood events will increase with their severity,” he said. “No place is immune. And yet remarkably few regions, even in wealthy countries, have useful and up-to-date flood maps due to the cost and difficulty of creating them.”

The Global Flood Mapping Tool uses the Google Earth engine combined with decades of Landsat data since 1985 – a vast catalog of geospatial data enabling analysis capabilities on a planetary scale.

Layers of Landsat information for a selected region and a specified time period identify temporary and permanent water bodies while incorporating site-specific elevation and land use data. This produces a detailed map of flooding over the past decades, with available population, building and land use overlays, which can be used for community planning, building zoning, insurance assessments. and more.

A list of the deadliest floods in history shows 211 events, 103 of which occurred from 1985, the first year covered by the tool’s data. New flood events will be added as they occur to provide the most up-to-date maps to help assess overall flood impacts and plan for the future.

“Painting a detailed picture of historic and potential flood risk areas will be invaluable to any urban and regional planning service,” says the project collaborator. Dr Duminda Perera.

The more detailed version of the tool under development for commercial use will provide building-by-building level resolution and integrate building occupancy data. And a free flood risk forecasting tool, to be released next year, will use artificial intelligence to generate current and future flood risk maps for three climate change scenarios at the city, city level, district and watershed.


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