Coasts at risk

Document Type

Book chapter

Publication details

Scheffers, AM, Scheffers, SR & Kelletat, DH 2012, 'Coasts at risk', in AM Scheffers, SR Scheffers & DH Kelletat (eds), The coastlines of the world with Google Earth: understanding our environment, vol. 2, Coastal Research Library, Springer Netherlands, pp. 239-286. ISBN: 9789400707375

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Among all observed natural hazards, water-related disasters are undoubtedly the most recurrent and pose major threats to human security and sustainable socio-economic development, as recently witnessed with the disasters caused by the Japan tsunami in 2011, the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Cyclone Nargis in 2008, and many others. Ever since first settling along the coast, human societies had to adapt to the constantly changing conditions and to the risk of storms and floods. Today, at a rough estimate, more than 200 million people worldwide live in coastal areas less than 5 meters above sea level. By the end of the 21st century the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security ( UNU-EHS) estimates this figure to increase to 400–500 million as coastal megacities grow rapidly in most countries. Already during the period 2000 to 2006, a total of 2.163 hydrological disasters were reported globally in the Emergency Disasters Database (EM-DAT), killing more than 290.000 people, affecting more than 1.5 billion, and inflicting more than US$422 billion of damage. Coastal areas are among the most densely populated regions of the world and therefore particular vulnerable to the impacts of storms and tsunamis and the impacts of climate change such as sea level rise and associated coastal erosion. Researchers all around the world seeking answers to the hotly debated million dollar question of how rapidly and to what extent sea level will rise as a consequence of climate change. On old saying from medieval times simply states “Build a dyke or move away”, today policymakers and governments are facing challenging discussions of the future of our coasts – defence or orderly retreat.