Saturday, July 28, 2007

Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink

When American satirist Robert Benchley arrived in Venice, he sent a telegram saying "streets flooded, please advise". These words must ring hollow in the ears of people living in the South West who have seen their streets turn into rivers as the flood waters continue to rise.

After his tour of some of the worst-hit areas, Gordon Brown announced a review of flood defences. But for the thousands of people who are without homes, power and running water, this is all too little, too late.

In 2004, a Government-commissioned report said the risk of flooding would rise up to 20 times by the 2080s because of increased rainfall, and said the Government would need to increase spending by £30 million every year so as to catch up.

Yet, what did our leaders do when presented with this evidence? Well, last year, Gordon Brown cut the flood defence budget by £14 million.

One would have thought that after this catastrophic move by Labour, they'd be looking for ways to ensure that a disaster on this scale would not happen again.
But, only on Monday in the House of Commons, Housing Minister Yvette Cooper set out proposals for 70,000 new homes, some of which will be built on flood plains.

Insurers have insisted that all new housing developments should be built away from flood-prone areas, and announced 800 major housing projects have gone ahead against their advice. Yet our Government continues to ignore professional advice. One way they could help flood victims is by trying to get some of our money back from the European Union.

In 2002, the European Union set up a "solidarity fund" to come to the aid of any member state in the event of a major national disaster. The fund, paid for in part by British taxpayers, has an annual budget of one billion euros, and was used in 2002 to help flood victims in central Europe.

It will intervene in cases of natural disasters with serious repercussions on living conditions and includes money to restore infrastructure, including energy, drinking water and sewerage.

There are 350,000 people in Gloucestershire now without running water since a treatment plant was swamped, and it is estimated that they will have to wait a week before the problems are fixed.

Our membership of the European Union costs every man, woman and child in this country £873 a year: a figure even the Daily Express are taking as fact now. Surely, we should try to recoup some of that to help people whose homes and businesses have been ruined by the floods? This is not charity, but is claiming back what is rightfully ours.

In 2002, the European Commission allocated 728 million euros to Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and France following the floods which caused huge amounts of damage in those countries.

Last year, it gave 92.88 million euros to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden following storms which devastated the areas.

The estimated cost of the floods in the UK is currently at £2 billion, well within the amount required by the EU for emergency funds. So why has our Government not done anything about this?

Many requests have been written to the FCO, including from UKIP MEP Derek Clark, who wrote to Mr Miliband on 5th July, only to receive a reply telling him his letter had been fobbed off onto another department. The Tories have also jumped on the bandwagon, with Neil Parish appearing on the Today Programme shortly after the media were informed that the letter by Mr Clark had been sent. Mr Parish then proceeded to tell the listeners that the Conservatives were asking for this fund too. Why not just join up with UKIP and let's all have a combined effort?

More rain is on the way tonight, and as green fields become lakes, the misery for farmers who have lost livestock to drowning and have crops rotting in the fields will be exacerbated, knowing that if they have to rely on payments from Defra, they face years of difficulties. The £200 million black hole in Defra's financing caused by fines after late payments to farmers is partly the cause of cuts in the flood defence budget. The audacity of the EU charging us for not giving our money back to the people they took it from in the first place before they handed it to Brussels is frankly mind boggling. All the fines do is create another expense, which in the South West resulted in a cut've guessed it! Flood defences. Where do we find these people from? It's worth mentioning, I think, that in the 1997 Labour government, not one single person had ever set up their own business. A wise decision, perhaps, considering that since they all have brains made from cotton wool, they would surely fail.

But why is our Government giving away so much of our money overseas, including £8 billion to Africa, when these last weeks have highlighted serious flaws in our own infrastructure? If they want to help the developing world, why not pull out of the EU and engage in free trade? That way, everyone can get richer and the allocative and productive efficiency can ensure less wastage. There's an idea which would work, and yet it is met with cries of outrage and derision when mentioned. No, you're probably right: giving money to prop up criminal governments is a much better idea, just like giving an allowance to a lazy teenager is likely to make them get off their arse and get a job.

Why has a developed country like ours no national standards for defending essential infrastructure and is relying on people piling up sandbags around a power station to prevent mass blackout?

Predictably, our Government has hidden behind climate change as the reason for this misery. Most recent climate models suggest Britain should experience drier, hotter summers and wetter winters rather than the deluge we have recently experienced. One cannot measure a climate on the weather experienced in one country over one weekend.
Instead of rushing to build houses everywhere, the Government should look at the impact of building on water run-off areas and stop building on flood plains, especially as 700,000 homes stand empty. We need to plan better and ensure new homes don't suffer the same fate as those currently sitting under water.

And in the meantime, we need to demand our money from the European Union which hundreds of thousands of people across this country desperately need. Once we've got our money, though, I do hope people see sense about this laughable government and vote them out. A few more years of these monkeys and there won't be anything else to rebuild.


Viragones Infernae said...

An excellent post, Trixy. Thoroughly enjoyed reading that.

It is so typical of gov't to bury its head in the sand and hope the whole thing will go away. Given the severity of these floods, I hope that some anger will start to overflow too and gov't start to get it in the neck -- specially old Brown who seems a little too keen to distance himself from decisions that he was involved in.

Somehow I doubt they will take heed though, and may well end up building a load of uninsurable properties that people won't buy...

S said...

A excellent summary post. I think flood strategy may get some political mileage over the coming months and maybe years.

On the 14million budget cut, while it's a valid point the Environment Agency have said that this cut had no effect on the current problems as it takes many years to plan and implement flood defences and this cut had not made an impact yet.

Little Black Sambo said...

nor any drop to drink

Trixy said...

I was listening to the radio 4 piece on this yesterday morning and Coleridge's relative of some description was on there and he said he wrote it about 7 different ways. But I think you're right and this is the official one.