Climate Change Causes Huge Infrastructure Damage

The impacts of Climate Change are now slowly being understood by profession­al engineers and other disciplines as more and more data on what has happened in weather events around the
28 Apr 2018 11:00
Climate Change Causes Huge Infrastructure Damage

The impacts of Climate Change are now slowly being understood by profession­al engineers and other disciplines as more and more data on what has happened in weather events around the world is becoming available and specific studies are undertaken after significant events to provide additional information.

There is also now a growing network of or­ganisations that are ensuring that the infor­mation is quickly disseminated to relevant people and groups around the world and that the information is used to develop plans to as­sist in the mitigation process.

In Fiji, we have seen a dramatic increase in both the frequency and intensity of weather events over the last three years, the most nota­ble being Tropical Cyclone Winston, and Gov­ernment is focussed on taking action to pre­pare for the future event and to have in place a strong response plan offering immediate ac­tion and an effective rebuilding capacity.

Together with these actions, there is a change in the way infrastructure is controlled and standards are being put in place to ensure that all infrastructure is designed to avoid the damage that has previously caused extreme hardship for the population and large finan­cial loss particularly in the rural agricultural areas.

One of the more interesting aspects of the increased studies of the results of an event is the concept that, while it is not possible to predict the event, it is possible to predict the effect caused by the event.

This concept is now well developed, especial­ly in New Zealand, where there has been a se­ries of intense earthquakes in the Canterbury region over a relatively short period of time.

By committing a significant amount of time and funding to reviewing where and why the damage occurred, engineers are finding that they can use the data in a predictive way to tell them in advance where the damage will occur in an event and provide them with op­portunities to mitigate the impact on the com­munity.

This can be done by either strengthening the weaknesses that were identified as the cause of the damage by the studies in infrastructure that has similar features, or by being fully prepared in the response to damage after the event.

Plans are being put in place to direct re­sponse teams to the most strategically im­portant damage and repair it as a priority, or even to have a stock pile of material close to the site.

With roads, planning is also put in place to decide on the best alternatives around blocks, where landslides are most likely to occur and what preventative measures are indicated so that early action can be taken.

Plans also identify all the earthmoving equipment in each area and the contact de­tails so that in an emergency all possible re­sources can be marshalled immediately.

This preparation can also extend to the nego­tiation of rates so that no time is wasted try­ing to strike deals with every supplier after the event.

Worldwide there is also a renewed attention to the existing construction and engineering standards to ensure that they are relevant to the new learning, but also there is a fairly widely held belief that some of the existing standards may be higher than required.

This is a concern because a higher standard requires a higher budget and this can stop some work from proceeding or, more impor­tantly, lead to some cost cutting activities on the project that could compromise the integ­rity of the infrastructure.

It is estimated that moving to a Category five standard rather than a category four could add an additional thirty percent to the com­pletion cost. In the case of land slip, there have been many advances in technology over the last few years and these are not included in existing standards.

These technologies often provide an more ef­fective and economical result.

Another consideration, particularly in Fiji, is to find ways to encourage owner builders, particularly those in rural areas and villages, to apply acceptable minimum standards to the small dwelling structures.

To achieve compliance the standards need to be made simple and achievable by even un­skilled people and the cost has to be kept to a minimum.

The success of the concept will also require a very heavy awareness campaign as most of­ten there will be no professional review and as most of the structures of concern will be constructed without plan approval or profes­sional oversight.

One suggested solution for this segment is to develop packaged houses that are deliv­ered complete with all components including strapping and reinforcing to ensure the struc­ture is tied down as required.

An alternative concept under considera­tion is to supply framing and roofing compo­nents only, with the other components being sourced separately, to reduce the cost.

In New Zealand, after the Canterbury events, research identified all areas that were at risk and the government encouraged owners to move out and the houses were demolished.

The insurance in New Zealand made such action possible, with some government incen­tives added, but in Fiji most of the homes do not have insurance.

The recommendations from New Zealand show that the only long term solution is relo­cation, particularly for flooding or sea water incursion and that the cost of doing so will be significantly lower than staying with the sta­tus quo.

All the information to date tells us that Cli­mate Change will not go away and that the events will only get worse and more frequent, so a response to all the issues needs to be made now, or the effects on infrastructure and people will be much worse.

At least the government and relevant indus­tries are moving fast.


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