Flood disadvantage in Scotland: mapping the potential losses in well-being

This Scottish research looks at the communities most socially and spatially vulnerable to potential flood events in terms of their underlying characteristics (i.e. socio-demographic data such as age and health, spatial and physical characteristics of the neighbourhood), with a focus on mapping flood disadvantage (i.e. socio-spatial vulnerability combined with the probability of being flooded).

Executive Summary

  • To understand the differential impacts of hazard events like flooding on people, it is necessary to take a wider perspective than is often assumed. Assessing the exposure of areas is important. However, a wide range of distinct personal, environmental and social factors are involved in the conversion of extreme weather events into losses in well-being. Due to differences in underlying vulnerability, different places can require different policy responses, depending on the specific local personal, environmental and social factors that are most at play.
  • The results presented in this report provide a first focused look at flood disadvantage in Scotland. The report aims to help policy makers and practitioners explore the potential of an approach which centres on characterising the underlying vulnerability of people and places to extreme events like flooding through indicators representing the personal, environmental and social factors behind potential losses in well-being ('socio-spatial vulnerability'[1]). The resulting knowledge about neighbourhood socio-spatial vulnerability is then set in the broad context of potential neighbourhood flood exposure to generate a picture of 'flood disadvantage'. This contrasts with many previous approaches where the main emphasis is on understanding detailed patterns of potential flood exposure with a less extensive consideration of how that exposure may translate into losses of well-being in neighbourhoods and their communities.
  • A flood disadvantage map associated with coastal and fluvial (river-related) flooding has been produced for Scottish neighbourhoods. It combines existing neighbourhood level estimates of 'socio-spatial vulnerability' with an estimate of flood hazard-exposure. The measure of flood hazard-exposure is based on the percentage of residential addresses within each neighbourhood that are potentially affected by coastal or fluvial (river-related) flooding. Results have been summarised according to local authority (LA).
  • It should be noted that consistent with the data available at the time of conducting the analysis and reporting, the current measures of flood hazard-exposure and flood disadvantage do not take into account any existing flood defence schemes. Furthermore, there is no consideration of pluvial flooding, i.e. when extremely heavy downpours of rain saturate the urban drainage system and the excess water cannot be absorbed. This does not affect the underlying merit of the methodology, which highlights the personal, environmental and social factors affecting vulnerability. The research findings are presented as a basis for discussion and potential further development and are intended to be used in conjunction with local knowledge to inform adaptation planning. On this basis, 34% of Scottish neighbourhoods contain residential properties which are potentially exposed to some form of coastal or fluvial (river-related) flooding, covering areas where there is only a very low likelihood of flooding in any particular year (a 0.1% chance) up to those with a higher likelihood (1.0% chance).Within these potentially exposed neighbourhoods, 8.2% are estimated to be 'extremely flood disadvantaged', i.e. they typically have a high potential for losses in well-being and a high proportion of residential properties potentially affected by flood events, relative to the Scottish average[2]. These neighbourhoods represent 2.8% of all Scottish neighbourhoods. It is recommended that the personal, environmental and social factors affecting vulnerability in these neighbourhoods are considered further, in order to establish appropriate responses in each area.
  • The local authorities of Moray, Falkirk, Perth and Kinross and Glasgow City have the largest proportions of their total number of neighbourhoods classed as being 'extremely flood disadvantaged' with respect to coastal and fluvial flooding. These local authorities may require additional support to build resilience within the identified neighbourhoods and their associated communities. Responding to flood events and assisting with longer-term recovery processes may also place a particular burden on these authorities.
  • This mapping work aims to give policy makers and practitioners the following:
    • Information about where the main concentrations of disadvantage associated with coastal or fluvial (river-related) flooding are to be found.
    • Fine-grained information on the specific sources of disadvantage and socio-spatial flood vulnerability in different locations. Four case study examples are presented to illustrate how the data generated by the approach presented in this report could be used to better target adaptation policy and practice to the specific needs of different localities and populations.
  • Mapped neighbourhood characteristics can only provide part of the evidence base required for understanding and responding to individual and community social vulnerability. However, it can provide a useful way of identifying possible areas to target as part of a wider adaptation strategy (see paragraph 2.6 for a fuller account of limitations).
  • The Scottish Government is keen to explore how this work and its underlying model can be used to inform local policy and planning. The mapped results for Scotland are presented here for discussion, with a view to future development and refinement. Further work could combine the socio-spatial flood vulnerability index data with updated flood exposure model outputs, including estimates of pluvial flooding and existing flood defences. It is also recommended that the socio-spatial index work is updated to take account of the findings from the 2011 Census. Other recommendations are made in Chapter 4.


Email: Jackie Horne

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