The Scale of Indirect Damage from Flooding - A Case Study: Mississippi River Flooding of May 2011

Frieling, Benjamin

There are growing risks to economic activity in flood-plain regions due to the increasing severity of climate change-driven storms. In May 2011, heavy rains led to surging flood levels along the entirety of the Mississippi River basin. This eventually required the US Army Corps of Engineering to blast open floodgates in order to save major cities like Baton Rouge and New Orleans from catastrophic damage. However, this was at the cost of sacrificing millions of acres of farmland and sparsely populated parishes all over the southern basin region. Beyond the direct flood damage, business was disrupted while the Mississippi River was unable to be used as a trade route. But these disruptions, known as ‘indirect damage,’ can sometimes have a net positive result for firms that do not sustain much physical damage and can benefit from the ensuing price increases of their products. In the long term, however, increasing defense and recovery measures from flood incidents will be required in such regions in order to maintain economic activity. Overall, sustainable development would require either an avoidance of those risky zones, which is socially and economically impractical due to the large existing populations and infrastructure, or a focus on preventative measures.

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Consilience: The Journal of Sustainable Development

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Earth Institute
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December 3, 2015