This Copernicus Sentinel-1 image combines two acquisitions over the same area of eastern Iraq, one from 14 November 2018 before heavy rains fell and one from 26 November 2018 after the storms. The image reveals the extent of flash flooding in red, near the town of Kut. Image: modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.


Flood is usually used as a general term to describe the overflow of water from a stream channel into normally dry land in the floodplain (riverine flooding), higher-than–normal levels along the coast and in lakes or reservoirs (coastal flooding) as well as ponding of water at or near the point where the rain fell (flash floods) (IRDR Glossary).

Facts and figures

Floods are the natural hazard with the highest frequency and the widest geographical distribution worldwide. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)  flooding is one of the most common, widespread and destructive natural perils, affecting approximately 250 million people worldwide and causing more than $40 billion in damage and losses on an annual basis (OECD).

Flooding occurs most commonly from heavy rainfall when natural watercourses lack the capacity to convey excess water. It can also result from other phenomena, particularly in coastal areas, by a storm surge associated with a tropical cyclone, a tsunami or a high tide. Dam failure, triggered by an earthquake, for instance, will lead to flooding of the downstream area, even in dry weather conditions.

Various climatic and non-climatic processes can result in different types of floods: riverine floods, flash floods, urban floods, glacial lake outburst floods and coastal floods.

Flood magnitude depends on precipitation intensity, volume, timing and phase, from the antecedent conditions of rivers and the drainage basins (frozen or not or saturated soil moisture or unsaturated) and status. Climatological parameters that are likely to be affected by climate change are precipitation, windstorms, storm surges and sea-level rise (UNDRR).

When floodwaters recede, affected areas are often blanketed in silt and mud. The water and landscape can be contaminated with hazardous materials such as sharp debris, pesticides, fuel, and untreated sewage. Potentially dangerous mold blooms can quickly overwhelm water-soaked structures. Residents of flooded areas can be left without power and clean drinking water, leading to outbreaks of deadly waterborne diseases like typhoid, hepatitis A, and cholera (UNDRR).

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Data Source

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Publishing institution: European Space Agency (ESA)
ESA's Earth Observation Thematic Exploitation Platform (TEP) is a browser for satellite imagery and specific products on an environmental topic. The TEP platforms are divided into 7 categories: Coastal; Forstry; Geohazards; Hydrology; Polar; Urban; and Food Security. Each platform is a collaborative, virtual work environment providing access to EO data and the tools, processors and Information and Communication Technology resources required to work with them. TEP aims to bridge the gap between the users and the data and tools.
Publishing institution: World Resources Institute (WRI)
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Pleidas, TerraSar-X, SPOT and Elevation data available commercially from airbus, certain sample data sets at various locations available for free.
Publishing institution: Radiant Earth Foundation
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Publishing institution: Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGAD)
ICPAC drought maps present current rainfall anomaly (Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI)), vegetation anomaly, hydrological condition and rangeland drought monitoring maps. ICPAC Flood Hazard and Risk Maps present flood hazard maps, population estimates, near-real time rainfall 10 day maps from TAMSAT, flood frequency maps for 100 years. Regional focus: Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia, South Sudan. TAMSAT is the acronym for Tropical Application of Meteorology Using Satellite Data and Ground-Based Observations which is a rainfall estimation and quality assessment system providing high-resolution (~4 km) , 10-daily (or monthly) pan-African rainfall estimates. The TAMSAT system is based on two cardinal data sets: 1) Rainfall estimates based on time-lapse analysis of the cloud-top temperature distribution and development observed every 30 minutes (every 15 minutes since July 2006) by thermal infrared (TIR) imagery from aboard the Meteosat satellites of the first and...
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