Harvey has been a teaching moment for Americans. We came together once again, independent of race, color or religion to help fellow Americans. That’s what we do. We help each other. That spirit of moving forward together is who we are. Let’s not lose this spirit as survivors return to their homes and have to cope with their losses. Let’s finally understand what it means to lose everything and provide the helping hand to rebuild with the understanding that one task requires emotional support and our second task is to provide economic support using intelligent planning. If no other lesson is learned, we must learn to work with and mitigate the effects of Mother Nature.
Paraphrasing the Economist: storms and floods still account for 3/4 of the world’s weather related disasters. Harvey was the 3rd “500 yr” storm in Houston since 1979. At the same time, clean up from these disasters is becoming more costly as the globe continues to warm.
As the Economist further notes, “Houston was a prime example of poor planning.” In addition to absorbing refugees from Katrina, 1.8 million people have swelled the Houston population since 2000. Concrete has been laid over vast acres of prairie that once used to absorb the rain. According to Pro Publica, an investigative reporting publication, since 2010, Harris County has added 8600 buildings to 100 yr old flood plains. Developers are supposed to build ponds to accept the run off from water that would have soaked undeveloped land. Unfortunately, that was loosely enforced. Maps are not kept up to date and properties “outside” the 100 yr floodplains are being flooded repeatedly.
Government failure to plan adds to the problem. In addition, flood policies and FEMA are underfunded yet support 25-30% of the claims, encouraging homeowners to rebuild rather than moving out or renovating to mitigate against future disaster. In Texas 10,000 homes fall into this category. Nationwide, 5000 homes fall into this category each year! Insurance is supposed to signal a risk. In this instance it encourages it.
What should we do? Certainly what we should not do is wait for the next weather related disaster to strike. Let’s start replanting marshes, invest in remapping our vulnerable terrain, fund engineers and scientists and let them build the structures required to hold back flood waters before it’s too late. Any coastal city is imperil. Perhaps investing in Infrastructure now is appropriate to forestall devastation later. Who knows which of our cities is the next Harvey or worse?