Incorporating behaviour dynamics in flood risk assessment

20 April 2018

Professor Jeroen Aerts and Professor Wouter Botzen from the Institute for Environmental Studies (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) recently published a research agenda for improving estimates of flood risk, by including human feedback and dynamics in flood risk modelling. The paper is published in Nature Climate Change.

Current methods for assessing flood risk assume that societal responses to climate change and changing flood risk over time are static inputs to hydrological and flood risk modelling tools. In reality, however, the behaviour of individuals, businesses, and government entities before, during, and immediately after a flood event can dramatically affect the economic damages and recovery time.

For example, research in Germany shows that the losses due to a flood in the river Rhine were about half of a similar flood two years before, because people had high risk perceptions and were better prepared after the first flooding experience. This study shows why not accounting for such human feedbacks in flood risk assessment methods is a concern.

Integrating societal behaviour

Innovations in flood-risk assessment that integrate societal behaviour and behavioural adaptation dynamics into such quantifications lead to more accurate characterization of risks (up to a factor 2). Better insights into flood risk  improves assessments of the effectiveness of risk-management strategies and investments in adaptation to climate change, like coastal protection against sea level rise.

The paper argues in favour of developing novel approaches such as agent-based models, that integrate hydrological models with methods from, for example, behavioural economics. Such new approaches, that integrate risk modelling and human responses to risk, improve risk estimates, and are therefore important for guiding flood-risk management policy.

Publication details

Aerts, J.C.J.H., Botzen, W.J., Clarke, K.C., Cutter, S.L., Hall, J.W., Merz, B., Michel-Kerjan, E., Mysiak, J., Surminski, S. & Kunreuther, H. (2018). Integrating human behaviour dynamics into flood disaster risk assessment. Nature Climate Change, 8, 193–199.

Source: IVM Newsletter

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