Valuing the benefits of Nature-based Solutions for integrated urban flood management in Asia

Green city pedestrian bridge (credit: ultramansk/Adobe Stock)

The Australian Water Partnership is supporting a new initiative as part of its Australia-Mekong Water Facility to identify, evaluate and realise the benefits associated with Nature-based Solutions (NbS) for integrated urban flood management in the Mekong region.

NbS are increasingly being integrated into urban planning to provide more cost-effective and flexible approaches to addressing the challenges of urban flood management, while also generating a wide range of water supply and other co-benefits that contribute to broader environmental, economic and social improvements in the urban landscape. Relative to conventional large-scale infrastructure, NbS can be faster to deliver, scalable, and often have lower technology requirements promoting timely recovery of economic activity. NbS can also create healthy places that bring communities together, encouraging social recovery and resilience to flooding and other extreme events including pandemics.

Across the Mekong region, pressures from rapid population growth, urbanisation, climate change and economic development are exacerbating pre-existing water quantity and quality challenges. Social, economic and gender inequities also mean that some community groups suffer disproportionately from the impacts of flooding and other natural hazards.

The new initiative is focused on NbS in Thailand and Vietnam—both countries which face a high level of exposure to flooding. The initiative aims to support the integration of NbS as part of a viable, effective and long-term flood mitigation option for sustainable urban development.

Established by the World Bank and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and implemented by The Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities (CRCWSC) in Australia and the International Centre for Environmental Management (ICEM), the project will:

  1. develop and test a guide and associated tools for economic valuation of NbS for Integrated Urban Water Management, with a particular emphasis on flood management in Thailand and Vietnam;
  2. demonstrate the economic and scientific evidence base for NbS as an essential strategy in urban planning and development; and
  3. build the capacity of national institutions and experts in the use of tools for NbS benefit valuation and investment option evaluation.

CRCWSC Chief Executive and project Team Leader Mr Ben Furmage says that while there is plenty of support in principle for NbS, there is also significant potential to upscale their practical application as part of a more integrated response to flooding that balances retreat, adapt and defend strategies.

“NbS can add significant value but decision-makers require this value to be quantified as part of a compelling business case and this is something we believe the initiative will help with,” said Mr Furmage.

Australia has proven experience in this space. Water industry demand for a better way to compare and integrate NbS and traditional grey infrastructure solutions drove the development of the CRCWSC’s Investment Framework for Economics of Water Sensitive Cities (INFFEWS). The Framework was a key input to a collaborative project involving the CRCWSC and the World Bank and resulted in a guide for the Economic Valuation of NbS in Integrated Urban Flood Management in China, which was tested with three Chinese case studies. The aim is now to expand the China Guide to the Greater Mekong region and to demonstrate its application to Thailand and Vietnam through four detailed case studies.

Prof David Pannell conducting INFFEWS training to local national experts group in World Bank Beijing office (credit: CRCWSC)

Prof David Pannell conducting INFFEWS training to local national experts group in World Bank Beijing office (credit: CRCWSC)

Options for case studies in Thailand and Vietnam are currently being considered and the first training module for National Experts is underway. The project is expected to be complete by June 2021.

The NbS initiative is contributing to a broader program of work helping to achieve more equitable, transparent and effective management of water resources development in the Mekong region.

Feature image: Green city pedestrian bridge (credit: ultramansk/Adobe Stock)

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