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From The Socialist newspaper, 5 July 2007

Under several feet of flood water - after flood defence budget cut

ON 25 June, the equivalent of one-sixth of a year's rainfall fell on South Yorkshire in 24 hours. A week later, seven people have died and many villages are still under feet of flood water with residents complaining of being abandoned by the authorities. Some will not be able to return home for six months.

By a Sheffield Heeley Socialist Party member

Many people did not take out specific insurance - they were told that new flood defences would prevent the flooding seen seven years ago. Many workers and small businesses cannot afford the premiums for flood insurance which protects big business. Some of the worst-hit communities are former pit villages still suffering from Thatcher's destruction of the mining industry.

Flooding was reported in North Sheffield as early as 10am on Monday 25 June. The Met Office had accurately forecast heavy rain for another ten hours, coming on top of recent floods. Yet some people were still working at 4pm. I decided to leave when rats were reported swimming in the next car park!

Even those that left earlier were caught. In Rotherham, there was no indication that the town centre had been closed. After getting through a three-hour traffic jam drivers were diverted into an already flooded industrial estate.

Ironically, only 4x4's - themselves a major contributor to global warming - could get through. Other vehicles were left to their own devices, with no information on where to go or where to stay - there were almost no police or any other officials. Many workers could not get home on Monday.

Most commentators agree that extreme weather events such as floods will become more frequent because of climate change. Yet there have been cuts in the Environment Agency's already inadequate flood defence budget.

The Agency estimates it needs a 50% increase in spending on flood defences, but the budget is not due to be increased until 2011. Instead, £15 million of cuts were made last year to the Agency due to another government computer system failure - the processing of EU grants to farmers, which resulted in EU 'fines' of £300 million, with a possible £200 million to come.

The resulting under-funding led to delays in flood defence schemes covering Leeds, Sheffield, Doncaster, Hull and other areas.


THE ENVIRONMENT Agency reported to a government Select Committee in 2006 that "the reductions in flood risk management GIA (Grant-in-Aid) funding run counter to the strategic direction of spending review 2004, reinforced by... the Foresight Report, the adaptation requirements to climate change..." and that "other restrictions did not allow us to enhance the maintenance budgets to improve the unsatisfactory condition of a proportion of defences".

A recent National Audit Office report found that 63% of flood defences were not properly maintained. Despite this, the guardian (27 June) reported that the Treasury had demanded further cuts in flood defence budgets in the last few weeks!

David Milliband claimed after the floods that the flood defence infrastructure was not broken. That was 'economical with the truth' - in many parts of South Yorkshire defences do not exist or the water merely flowed over the top of them.

Contrast the lack of spending on flood defences in many working-class areas with the £555 million (£1.3 billion at 2001 prices) spent on the Thames Barrier, mainly to protect British capitalism's heart in the City of London.

The floods also highlight the problems of profit-driven capitalist development. In South Yorkshire's Dearne Valley, the Ventura call centre alone employs 2,000 workers. The public transport infrastructure is completely inadequate so most of these workers have to travel by car - thus fuelling global warming even more.

Socialism cannot avoid natural disasters, but will be able to reverse global warming and its impact. A socialist economy and planning system would be driven by the needs of people and the environment, not by profits, and could bring jobs and services to where workers live. This would not only reduce commuting, but also stop the concreting of flood-plains and return this land to what nature designed it for.

Fire crews near collapse

FIRE BRIGADES Union (FBU) general secretary Matt Wrack has accused the government of not understanding "the scale, gravity and severity" of the floods. "We have witnessed the biggest rescue effort in peacetime Britain by our emergency services," he said. Fire crews are working "to the point of collapse."

In the first few days of flooding, the fire brigade had received 7,300 calls on flood-related incidents in England and Wales and had rescued 3,500 people.

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