Building in a Floodplain

Each year flooding isresponsible for an untold amount of property damage around the globe.What is often conceived to be a growing number of natural disasterscaused by environmental impact or the wrath of nature is in actualitythe effect of a growing population settling in floodplain regionsthat have never been inhabited before (FEMA, para 1). In thisregards, the discourse looks at the issues involved in a building ina floodplain as well as the history of floods.

Historicfloods and the damage they have caused

Floodof 1972 Wilkes-Barre, PA

Hurricane Agnes of June 1972 wasone of the worst flooding cases to have ever hit the USA in itsentire history. The flood was estimated to have caused at least 117lives and a cumulative property damage of roughly US$3 billion in theaffected 12 states (Sarmientoand Ted 8). Theworst hit areas were the states of Virginia, Maryland, New York andPennsylvania which is the home to Wilkes-Barre.

1985 northeastern Brazil

The 1985 northeastern Brazilfloods were the greatest flooding event leaving over one millionpeople displaced and hundreds dozen dead and or displaced. The morethan one week rain led to the destruction of entire villages. Thechallenge was attributed to human encroachment on protected areas andfailure on the citizen’s side to heed to the prior warning and actin good time. The destruction was estimated to be over 2 billiondollars as the destruction of crops and land estimated to be beyond2million acres (FEMA, para 4).

1998 central China

The1998 summer central china experienced its worst floods in 44 years.The floods other than climatic factors were believed to have beeninfluenced by the inhibition of floodplains by very high populous andthe neglect of the dikes. This particular flood covered at least 21million acres of land, destroying a lot of food stuff whichconstituted at least 50% of the entire area covered (FEMA para 5).More than 5.5 million houses were destroyed, with over 4100 peoplekilled. Additionally, over 13 million people were left homeless anddisplaced. The government managed to evacuate some of its citizenseven though their property had already been destroyed, as the policeworked tirelessly to evacuate another half a million people from thefloods.

Growingpopulations increase in floods

Theglobal population is growing tremendously as the health sectorglobally improves the health of the masses and reducing childmortality. The challenge is, as the population stretch, the size ofthe land mass in the world is constant thus, to accommodate thegrowing population and people have started encroaching on areas whichwere priory protected and inhabitable. This is mostly happening inthe rural areas as opposed to the urban dwellers. As a result ofjoblessness, most people are today retreating to the rural areas topractice agricultural activities for subsistence use mostly, as aresult of the dwindling size of plantation farms, due to the growingpopulation. This according to Sarmientoand Ted isresulting in people settling in the flood plains, and in the rainyseasons the floods calamities are becoming a day to day issue acrossthe various global governments (11).


Settingup of industries in the industrializing countries is another factorthat is adversely contributing towards settlement in the floodplains. Sarmientoand Ted observe thatthe act of displacement of people to create room for construction orexpansion of industries, with or without compensation, may pushpeople to settle in the flood plains which are cheap and lesspopulated than their surrounding areas (11). As a result, these areasare constantly expanding and being more populated as the resettledpeople expand their families as well as more people are settling inas a result of industrialization (Sarmientoand Ted 13). Thisis contributing in a major way in terms of uncontrolled andunsanctioned construction of poor houses in the flood plains.Alternatively, the location of the an industry directly influencesthe human settlement in the sense that the industry workers have tolive in affordable housing in the vicinity of the industry one isworking in. this in the long run encourages the building of suchhousing in the flood plains.

Theneed for housing building in floodplains

Apart from industrialresettlement, people are constructing houses in the flood plains dueto poverty. This is influenced directly by the fact that properhouses are becoming very competitive as a result of the growingpopulation. The longer outcome is the housing both rental andself-owned is becoming very expensive and making the cost of livingunbearable to the majority who are living below or slightly above thepoverty line. This is consequently pushing people to retreat to theflood plains illegally and construct cheap housing which in mostcases does not follow the proper criterion of safe housing in suchareas. In the long run, when the heavy rains come, these people areaffected in a major way at times leading to loss of lives and orproperty. Corruption and poor governance are also a contributingfactor in all this. This is happening as politicians try to scorepolitical mileage and as a result compromise on the governmentpolicies on housing and construction, to cover the government failureto provide proper housing.

Nations/Areaswith large amounts of floodplain inhabitants

Floodplainshave for generations attracted high population density due to theirfertile silt soil, close vicinity to the water source, the flatnessof the land making it suitable for a human activity like constructionand building. Consequently, a very high percentage of people acrossthe globe have settled in these flood plains, in spite of the risksinvolved. The figure of individuals existing in the flood plains ishigh and is expected to grow even high considering the continuousdesire for people to settle there and develop such areas further(Sarmientoand Ted 19). Thisrise translates to a higher risk of human and property loss inbillion dollars, in cases of flood, as the effects of climate changeare projected to worsen the flooding cases in the near future. Themost affected countries in terms of high settlement in floodplainsinclude the famous Ganga basin in India, which is supposed to be thebiggest floodplain carrying the highest number of population. It hasan area of about 1,093,400 sq. km long. Incidentally, apart frombeing the most populated and poorest floodplain in southern Asia, theGanga basin in India has the highest number of disaster-strickenpeople (Sarmientoand Ted 19). Chinahas the other most populated floodplain which is called theYangtze River plains.

Improvingthe flexibility ofthe communities living in the flood plains can be improved by firstquantifying the risk that faces them, then make the necessaryregulations such as proper structures construction, check damsconstruction or other measures to control deaths through timelywarnings.

Laws,building techniques, methods to beat the floods

FEMABuilding codes, permits, insurance

TheFEMA building code regulates the quality of the houses built, towithstand the turbulent flood storm in such an eventuality. Theorganization embarked on a mission to establish the effectiveness ofconforming to the set building codes in areas that have experiencedflooding events. These codes include the international building code,which deals with any physical alteration to be made to a physicalproperty, the international residential code, which affects smalldwelling houses which do not exceed two floors (FEMA, para 2).Lastly, there is the international existing building code which dealswith repair change of occupancy and or any other physical alterationof the existing structure.


Apermit is a necessity in building construction, to facilitate theadherence to all the set standards and compliances with the set FEMAand NFIP standards in the flood plains. The permit assists one togauge his project in relation to the set standards. In flood plainsespecially, a permit is vital to avert unplanned development whichmay block the passage of the floods. According to FEMA, permit ismore sensitive in flood plains and not just building permits butdevelopment permit for any project that befits developmental title(1). In order to comply with the set standards, one should regulatethe filling and grading, storage of materials, minor repairs thatdoes not affect the building structurally, temporal stream flow, aswell as other government agencies activities like road construction.


Thenational flood insurance program aims at moderating the lossesincurredevents of floods (FEMA, para 4). This is and can only beachieved by ensuring all building built within the floodplains havefollowed the set regulation by ensuring that premium are lowered foraffordability purpose and as well as the reducing structural damagesin the event of floods.

Buildingon stilts, required elevations, “flood proofing”

Forsafety of people’s lives and their property, building houses onstilts and observing the set elevation height for the purpose of thestructures stability and balance in times of floods is a necessarymeasure to take (FEMA, para 8). This should be done in compliancewith the set standards of construction of houses and or any otherstructure within the floodplains. These guidelines if followed wellcan greatly help in making the structures erected within thefloodplains habitable, safe and flood proof.


The growing populations thatinhabit developing nations require more and more land for buildingand settling. This is in consideration of the financial challengesfacing most of the people living in these countries as well as thehigh cost of living which is pushing people to move and settle in thedangerous floodplains regardless of the danger they expose themselvesto. Thus governments should come up with policies that are moregeared towards a version of flooding disaster as opposed toregulating floodplain settlement. With no foreseeable method to stopthe inhabitance of floodplains, there are ways to “beat the flood”so to speak. This can be regulated by zoning laws, building codes,and governmental assistance, which can be adjusted to make it safe tobuild in a floodplain in a more permanently safe manner than thetemporal structures people are setting that fall way below the FEMAstandards.


FEMA(Federal Emergency Management Agency). 2011b. National FloodInsurance Program (NFIP) Guidance for Conducting CommunityAssistance Contacts and Community Assistance Visits. FEMA F-766,2011.

Sarmiento,Camilo, and Ted, Miller. &quotCosts and consequences of flooding andthe impact of the National Flood Insurance Program.&quot&nbspPacificInstitute for Research and Evaluation. Calverton, Maryland&nbsp(2006).