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Friday, 11 November 2016

Canada’s Near Failing Grade in Flood Preparedness

By Joanne Kennell, Meteorologist at CatIQ

It may surprise you to learn that nearly all 10 Canadian provinces and Yukon have received a near failing grade when it comes to flood preparedness. According to a new report titled “Climate Change and the Preparedness of Canadian Provinces and Yukon to Limit Potential Flood Damage” by the University of Waterloo and sponsored by the Intact Centre of Climate Adaptation, these grades are a symptom of significant change being needed across the country. And these changes need to happen quickly in order for Canada to be prepared to address the climate-related risks of increasing severe weather events, including catastrophic floods.

In Canada, the majority of insured catastrophic losses are from water-related damage, and up until the Fort McMurray Fire (2016-05-Cat-0070) in Alberta this past May, the 2013 Southern Alberta Flood (2013-06-Cat-0049) was the costliest insured natural disaster with a CatIQ insured loss estimate of over $1.5 billion. According to the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, 2016, the federal government has spent more on recovering from catastrophic natural disasters over the last 6 years than in the previous 39 years combined. Clearly, climate change risks could pose a significant threat to not only Canada, but to the global financial system as both storm intensity and frequency continue to rise.

Figure 1: Catastrophic Insured Losses from Natural Disasters in Canada (1983 to 2016)

So what does the report mean by flood preparedness? Preparedness is defined as “the capacities and knowledge developed by governments, professional response organizations, communities and individuals to anticipate and respond effectively to the impact of likely, imminent or current hazard events or conditions”, the report quotes from The United Nations Secretariat of theInternational Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR), 2016. To survey the flood preparedness of Canada’s provinces and Yukon (Northwest Territories and Nunavut were not covered in the report), 103 government representatives across 91 provincial and territorial ministries, departments and agencies were polled on the preparedness to limit flood damage relative to current (2016) and future (2030) major rainfall events based on 12 categories (Feltmate, 2016):

1.       Floodplain Mapping
2.       Land-use Planning
3.       Drainage System Maintenance
4.       Sustainable Flooding Management
5.       Home Adaptation Audit
6.       Commercial Property Adaptation Audit
7.       Transportation Systems
8.       Electricity Supply
9.       Drinking Water Systems
10.   Waste Water Systems
11.   Public Health and Safety
12.   Emergency Preparedness and Response

Overall, the Canadian provinces and Yukon scored very well in maintaining Public Health and Safety and Emergency Preparedness and Response. However, many provinces fell short in the remaining 10 categories. For example, most survey participants agreed that current land-use planning practices do not “sufficiently restrict development in flood-prone areas” and that “municipal councils have significant power to override their own land-use restriction bylaws to approve new developments, even if the developments are in recognized flood-prone areas”. Additionally, four provinces are currently not involved in the development of a Home Adaptation Audit program, which is a program that helps homeowners assess their vulnerability and minimize their risk to flooding. Similarly, nine provinces indicated that they have not developed a Commercial Property Adaptation Audit program, which is comparable to the Home Adaptation Audit, but for businesses.

By now you must be itching to know how Canada, as well as individual provinces and territories, scored. Using a scale from A (strong flood preparedness) to E (weak flood preparedness); Canada received an overall grade of C-. This is not great, and “suggests that there is a considerable margin for Canada to better prepare for, and potentially mitigate, future flood risk” states the report. Ontario leads the pack with a score of B-, and the provinces with the lowest score include British Columbia and Prince Edward Island, which both received a D.

        Figure 2: The Canadian Average Flood Preparedness Score Across all Canadian Provinces and Yukon

However, the survey participants did recommend several measures that provinces and territories should take in order to limit future flooding risks:

1.       Create a position of Chief Adaptation Officer (CAO) whose duty is to identify    
  areas of both strength and weakness to flood preparedness and develop methods  
  to mitigate the risks
2.       CAOs would be in charge of ensuring that flood risk preparedness is deployed
3.       Provinces and territories should issue, on a multi-year cycle, audited public  
  reports on the state of flood preparedness and future challenges that may develop
4.       Provinces and territories should mandate that new development in flood-prone
  areas be restricted, and that municipalities should not be able to overturn bylaws
  set by provinces and territories
5.       Where practical, infrastructure should be re-built to better handle our changing

Although concerns related to flooding have been minimal in recent decades, the report concludes that “the risks of the past are not the risks of the present, and certainly not the risks of the future”, and failure to improve the preparedness of provinces and territories could result in unceasing economic losses, threatening Canada’s status as a safe country in which to invest and do business.


Feltmate, Blair. (2016). Climate Change and the Preparedness of Canadian Provinces and
         Yukon to Limit Potential Flood Damage. University of Waterloo. URL:

Office of the Auditor General Canada (2016). 2016. Spring Reports of the Commissioner of
         the Environment and Sustainable Development: Report 2 – Mitigating the Impacts of
         Severe Weather. URL: http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_

The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN/OCHA), Policy and
         Development Branch and United Nations Secretariat of the International Strategy
         for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR). (2008). Disaster Preparedness for Effective
         Response: Guidance and Indicator Package for Implementing Priority Five of the
         Hyogo Framework. Geneva, Switzerland: UN/ISDR and UN/OCHA. URL:


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