Preparing before the flood: Making cities rainproof is crucial

Rain can be inconvenient. Luckily most of it disappears through the drains. Or so it seems. In reality, because of climate change and its related increased cloudburst events, there is a serious rainwater problem in many cities worldwide. Rapid urbanization with increased concrete and tarmac areas also create numerous water challenges in China's cities.

Since the amount of rain is only likely to increase in the coming years, it forms a serious threat. Extreme rainfall over Copenhagen on 2nd of July 2011 is a prime example of this. About 150mm of rain fell in 1,5 hour creating a damage totaling to 1 billion euros. In comparison, the sewage system of Dutch cities are now designed for 20mm rainfall per hour.

Timely preparation for cities and urban areas to cope with these circumstances is key. That is where platforms such as Amsterdam Rainproof, an initiative of the public watercycle company Waternet, enter the picture. Lot Locher, Programme Strategist at Amsterdam Rainproof, explains that, “it is an online and offline platform with a core interdisciplinary team that consists of people within and outside of the government. Our aim is to make Amsterdam rainproof in 2050, limiting the damage following a cloudburst and increase the beneficial use of rainwater for greening and rainwater harvesting. We want to reach this goal by setting up a network with public and private stakeholders who are involved in the physical transformation of the city. Creating awareness of the urgency of this problem is the first step to make Amsterdam rainproof. Developing instruments and tools together with the stakeholders so that they can act rainproof is the second. In three years’ time we now have over 100 partners in our platform.”

Sharing knowledge worldwide

It is no wonder that ms. Locher also presented at Aquatech Shanghai. This event brings together the worlds of water technology and water management, aiming to present integrated solutions and a holistic approach to the water challenges facing Asia. China is already experimenting with innovative urban design, such as sponge cities, to solve flooding and water shortages. “In China, I understand that urgency is the main incentive to take action. Since many areas already cope with heavy rainfall and flooding, the government is actively pushing for changes and reforms in the public domain,” ms. Locher mentions.

Amsterdam Rainproof and similar networks within the Netherlands and abroad are also actively sharing knowledge. There are strong connections with Rotterdam and international cooperation with London, Copenhagen and South-American cities. Ms. Locher says: “Of course the actual practice of our methods differs, but the public-private cooperation is really lifting of. Furthermore, the government can actually create opportunities through this way of working, instead of being market-disruptive.”

These new opportunities and different dynamic of market forces are one of the most direct effects of the public-private cooperation. For instance, flower and garden shops that are heavily competing with online shops, could have new added value. The government could cooperate with these stores and provide them with more expertise and service. “Besides selling their products, they could provide information on making your garden rainproof. This can provide an important motivation to go to physical shops to buy plants,” ms. Locher points out.

Throughout the whole process, communication is essential. “The community that we operate in is quite tight, so you often meet each other and share inspirational stories at different meetings. Awareness is growing and everyone is constantly thinking about what works in what situations. We learn a lot from each other, since every place has its own culture, stakeholders and approach. The details may differ, but the network philosophy can be applied anywhere. Every drop counts.”