Crossing Colonial Borders: Governing Environmental Disasters in Historic Context



Exploring the history of major floods, governmental responses, and contemporaneous scientific research, this chapter will argue that by understanding context and precedent in dealing with past urban disasters, we can better understand and produce efficient approaches to disaster management in the future. Just as the disasters that face cities today should not be considered in isolation, so too should the lessons of the past be made available today. Using the major flood events of the Straits Settlements c. 1850–1950 as a close lens into disaster response and management, this paper takes an historic perspective on the complex dynamics of climate, science, urban planning and disaster. It will focus on a region where the history of floods has been under researched yet, floods have played a major part in developing urban planning strategies over the long-term. Under British administration, the mechanisms of disaster response in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur were frequently reactive but, over time, urban governors also developed strategies and coping mechanisms to manage the reoccurring problem. These ideas were formed by first-hand experience but also from the exchange of knowledge across borders, especially scientific knowledge about tropical climates, deforestation, climate change and urban resilience. Crossing borders in this paper then, signifies the trans-global history of ideas and information across colonial spaces and the incorporation of international and local knowledge across geographical boundaries.


Floods Colonial borders Environmental disasters Urban governors Singapore Kuala Lumpur 


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Asia Research InstituteNational University of SingaporeSingaporeSingapore

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