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Officials struggle to keep up with escalating weather issue that has impacted thousands: 'Money is obviously the biggest constraint'

"They often have far more interested homeowners than they have funds, and the funding comes way too late."

"They often have far more interested homeowners than they have funds, and the funding comes way too late."

Photo Credit: Getty Images

In early May, floods struck southeast Texas, bringing a few months of rain in just a few days. This is the kind of rainfall the state usually only gets with hurricanes

What's happening?

Rain fell at rates that reached 6 inches an hour, and parts of the region received more than 10 inches in one day, per the Texas Tribune. The heavy rain pushed the water in the San Jacinto River, which flows from north of Houston southeastward to the Gulf of Mexico, over its banks. 

Three people died, and hundreds were forced to evacuate, ABC News reported, via Yahoo News.

The flood control district in Harris County, which includes Houston, has targeted over 2,000 at-risk properties as candidates for a program that would buy them out. This is part of an adaptation policy designed to protect homeowners by moving them out of areas vulnerable to flooding, as the Tribune reported. 

The problem is that the program is slow-going, and while many Texans express interest immediately after an event such as this, they might change their minds by the time money is available to move them.

"Money is obviously the biggest constraint," Alex Greer, an associate professor of emergency management at the University of Albany, told Grist. "They often have far more interested homeowners than they have funds, and the funding comes way too late."

Why is a flood buyout program important?

Scientists think our warming world will make more neighborhoods vulnerable to climate-related disasters. While the buyout program has issues, about 800 of the 2,400 properties along the San Jacinto River have been purchased, per the Tribune. The lessons learned there could help East Texas become a model for the country on how to implement an adaptation policy.

First Street Foundation says over 3 million people in the United States moved because of an increasing risk of flooding between 2000 and 2020. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which is mandated to protect refugees' rights and keep them safe, reported that 32.6 million people worldwide were forced or obliged to leave their homes in 2022 because of natural disasters — and 98% of these displacements were weather-related.

What's being done to enact useful adaptation policies?

Brenden Jongman, senior disaster risk management specialist with the World Bank, addressed related issues in an article on "effective adaptation to rising flood risk" published in the journal Nature. It will take "a diversified approach of interventions, which may include structural flood protection measures, early warning systems, risk-informed land planning, nature-based solutions, social protection and risk financing instruments," he said.

Greater awareness of this issue and its ties to our warming planet can help put pressure on people to vote for pro-climate-action candidates. The simple first step is talking to friends and family about the state of our climate.

Innovative efforts to prevent flooding are also occurring at local and state levels. A rain garden is one way to mitigate flooding, while nonprofits in California are promoting sunken gardens to help collect water.

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