Canadian Underwriter

Canadians confused about flood risk, study finds

October 11, 2019   by Adam Malik

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Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Fire Rangers wade through floodwaters as they deploy pumps in Pembroke, Ont., Saturday, May 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Canadians are seemingly drowning in confusion when it comes to flood risk, according to a recent survey of 1,700 Canadians.

The survey on flood risk, commissioned by RSA Canada and World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF-Canada), produced some seemingly self-contradictory findings. For example, despite nearly a third (31%) of respondents telling the study that they’re worried about a flooding event affecting them, 93% indicated that they don’t believe they live in an area prone to flooding.

The study also uncovered the public’s lack of knowledge around how to protect themselves from flood. Nearly half (47%) said they don’t know how to protect their homes, even though nearly three-quarters of Canadians acknowledged that flooding has increased.

Climate change was identified as the biggest reason for flooding (77%), with a lack of green space to absorb water (47%) also getting the blame. The study identified some confusion around the causes of flooding. For example, 27% were unsure if paved surfaces lead to greater rainwater runoff, and nearly one-in-five (19%) are unsure if flooding only happens following heavy rains.

While releasing the results of the survey, RSA Canada and WWF-Canada announced a partnership to look at vulnerabilities and create adaptation plans to build climate-resilient communities.

“I’ve seen first-hand the destruction and disruption that flooding can cause,” said Anthony Black, RSA Canada’s national catastrophe manager, in the announcement. “In many cases, Canadians don’t even know that they are at risk and aren’t even sure what they could have done to protect themselves. We have to band together as an industry, as a community, and with all levels of government, to do a better job in helping people recognize the risks they are exposed to and providing them with tools that result in immediate and sustainable solutions.”

The announcement pointed to the Saint John River (SJR) watershed in New Brunswick, where RSA Canada is supporting and funding WWF-Canada’s efforts to work with communities in the area to improve flooding resistance. In Florenceville-Bristol, N.B., the town is looking to implement nature-based solutions to build resilience like restoring wetlands and installing rain gardens.

“Building resilience is critical, as it goes beyond adaptation and sees communities over a large geographic area coming together to ensure they can ‘bounce back better’ from impacts like flooding,” says Simon J. Mitchell, lead freshwater specialist at WWF-Canada. “Our work in the SJR watershed is helping build a model that will empower local communities to enhance their flood resilience and respond to the impacts of climate change.”

The work done in the SJR watershed is an example of how government, industry and local communities can come together, WWF-Canada and RSA Canada said, and the two groups hope these efforts can be replicated in other communities across the country that are at risk.

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