Fairbourne, a Welsh village, is facing an existential crisis. The community of 700 residents has been identified as at high risk of future flooding due to climate change, with residents told the area is ‘beyond saving’.
According to a BBC article “The UK ‘climate refugees’ who won’t leave”, the low-lying Fairbourne village is prone to flooding from several factors:
- accelerating sea-level rise,
- an increased likelihood of severe storms caused by climate change, and
- the unique geological conditions – a nearby estuary and river run-off flowing down from the hills.
“The latest forecasts predict that it would not be safe or sustainable to defend Fairbourne beyond 2054,” says a spokesperson for Gwynedd Council.
In 2014, the Gwynedd Council, which has oversight of the village, declared that it will cease to maintain flood defences indefinitely, adding that from 2054 the area will no longer be inhabitable. The BBC article says that the council plans to “decommission” the entire village, dismantling all homes, roads, shops, and infrastructure and turning it back into marshland.
Residents refuse to leave
The UK ‘climate refugees’ (2022) says that Fairbourne residents refuse to accept that their community is lost to the sea and want to fight back to keep their community. Some are furious they have not received any compensation or assistance from the council (The UK ‘climate refugees’, 2022).
But five years ago, the Natural Resources Wales (NRW), the organisation responsible for flood management in Wales, spent £6.8m ($8.8m) on strengthening 1.8 miles (2.9km) of concrete tidal defences to protect more than 400 properties in Fairbourne from storm surges and flooding and to rebuild outfalls. But these defences cost around £19,000 ($24,000) in annual maintenance.
However, these defences can’t hold the water back forever. Big storms and high tides will erode these shingle banks and expose residents to the sea, says Sian Williams of NRW. By 2054, sea levels are projected to rise by over 1m (3.3ft), the article says, and by this time, it will no longer be feasible to maintain a flood protection system, says Williams.
Fairbourne residents are proposing to the Gwynedd council to build 100 tetrapods, a four-legged concrete structure used to dissipate the force of incoming waves and prevent coastal erosion and widely used as coastal defences in Japan.
The residents said that these tetrapods would only cost £50,000 to £62,5000, a “drop in the ocean” compared to the estimated £27m ($34m) needed to dismantle the community. The council responded that they needed to consider all available data and expert advice before deciding.
Inspiration from the Netherlands
Climate experts are urging the UK government to put up plans to support coastal communities facing threats of relocation because of climate impacts. They argue that the government could emulate Netherlands’ approach to flood management.
The article says, “For more than 1,000 years, the low-lying Netherlands has been trying to keep water at bay and protect communities from flooding, relying on an elaborate network of dykes. But realising the risks from intensifying climate impacts and rapidly rising water levels, the country changed its long-standing flood strategy in 2006, when it launched the Room for the River programme.”
Below are some more excerpts from the BBC article:
- The programme transformed farmland into floodplains. The government has informed the people living near the selected rivers about the flood risk and, in some cases, encouraged them to relocate. Throughout the 12-year programme, around 250 households were moved.
- When relocating residents becomes an imminent solution, it is critical to involve local communities in the decision-making process while offering them support. Governments need to build trust and respect and understand the community’s culture, concerns, and local history.
- According to a 2018 report by the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC). 1.2 million homes in England alone, 4% of existing homes, are at 0.5% or greater risk of annual flooding by 2080. The government plans to hold the line as long as possible and provide protection by constructing and maintaining flood defences.
- But the CCC report found that holding the line this century is not cost-beneficial for 53-66km (33-41 miles) of coastline.
- Richard Dawson, professor of earth systems engineering and a CCC’s adaptation committee member, says, “Unless there is more money invested, it is unrealistic to expect the line to be held everywhere.” According to Dawson, community engagement is key to adaptation plans, adding that “The more time people have to adjust to things, as long as appropriate resources are invested, that mitigates the impacts.”
According to the World Bank, more than two hundred million people will face displacement by 2050 because of climate change impacts. These people will soon lose their homes, and they need urgent solutions to help them.
The UK’ climate refugees’ who won’t leave. (2022, May 10). BBC. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20220506-the-uk-climate-refugees-who-wont-leave
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