Water, water everywhere
'Unprecedented' is an often over-used phrase, but it seems an apt description of the recent events in the North West of the UK.
Local residents are justifiably questioning how flood defences that were designed for a one in 100 year event can have been overtopped so soon after the previous one in 100 year flood event has occurred.
Whilst hydrologists are quick to remind us that a one in 100 year event can occur in any year, regardless of recent history, questions are certainly being asked about the underlying statistical data – and whether we might be experiencing a shift in weather patterns that makes flooding more likely.
Climate scientists are always reluctant to attribute any individual event to the impacts of climate change. Indeed, it will be several decades before we can really attribute trends to the flood data. However, these events are certainly consistent with the overall view that our weather may become less predictable during the 21st century.
It is in the nature of politicians to declare that we will ensure this never happens again, and that we will invest everything we need to protect people from flooding, but this is very unrealistic. The events in Cumbria demonstrate that it will happen again, even where funds are invested in flood defences.
It has long been recognised that we cannot afford to defend everybody against everything, and it is time that we had a far greater emphasis on communicating the risks and helping people to manage their own risk. Government and insurance companies have a role to play, but ultimately resilience is led by local communities, and we should invest more in these groups as well as targeting flood defences at the worst-hit areas.
Welcome recognition of this by Government has been shown with the announcement this week of immediately available grants of up to £5,000 to support people affected, to make their homes more resilient against future floods.
We also need to invest more in protecting our infrastructure. Dawlish, two years ago, the West Coast Mainline this year and the tens of thousands of people without power demonstrates the weakness of our infrastructure. These matters need to be taken control of by Government, and not left to the expediency of the balance sheet.
It may be that the towns in Cumbria have just had a run of bad luck, which is statistically possible. But given that we are entering a period of uncertainty, it is important that we are better prepared for more unprecedented events.