2014 Floods in Perspective: the reality of building on floodplains

The wettest January on record; highest river levels since records began; biggest winter storm ever. There is no end to the list of extravagant claims regarding the current floods across southern England. The Environment Agency and the government are being castigated in equal measure for preventing this untold disaster, ‘dredging’ has suddenly become a political buzzword and Ed Milliband continues to spout his inane and unhelpful comments. What would the Labour leader have done differently I ask?

The Somerset Levels are historic wetland that will always flood; planners and residents know this
The Somerset Levels are historic wetland that will always flood; planners and residents know this

Many people have undoubtedly been affected by the latest floods, losing homes, possessions and hope. Yet despite what some media sources and statisticians would have you believe there have been far worse floods in British history:

1) The Holmfirth Floods

2) River Thames Flood (1928)

3) North Sea Flood (1953)

4) 2012 Winter Floods

Canvey Island in 1953: over 300 perished in Britain alone during the North Sea flood
Canvey Island in 1953: over 300 perished in Britain alone during the North Sea flood

There have been others, many causing more damage and fatalities than the present flooding. Several reasons can be given for the 2014 Flood’s ascendancy to the top of many historical disaster lists:

  • The accuracy of recording rainfall and floodwater levels is constantly improving
  • Recording the water levels in rivers has been practiced only since the 1980s
  • Economic damage naturally rises with that of historical inflation
  • More people are affected because of overpopulation

The last bullet is the most significant. Britain, like most of the rest of the world, is grossly overpopulated. It is why welfare and benefit services are unsustainable, why there aren’t enough jobs, why adverse weather systems disrupt the lives of more people than before.

Furthermore, the overpopulation of the country – in addition to the constant cries for affordable housing – has resulted in planning laxity. People build on floodplains, they are actually encouraged to. What surprise then that they are affected by flooding?

Additionally, flood defences are built to serve a particular area yet ultimately redivert water somewhere else. The result? An area that was never previously vulnerable to flooding now is. Floodplains were an essential part of water control. Apparently they are no more.

The way statistics are manipulated means that we could be in the midst of the worst floods since Noah launched his Ark. Natural disasters are increasing, people howl. Surely this proves that climate change is happening before our eyes? No; it is simply evidence that more people than ever before are being affected by the weather because they have chosen – willingly or not – to live in vulnerable areas. In the distant past many weather systems would not have caused disasters because there would be no people to harm.

Rather than blaming the politicians, people should question the sustainability of an overpopulated world. Nature can never be tamed. If you live on land that has historically flooded, chances are it will again. Preparing an emergency plan for such an eventuality seems the most sensible course of action.

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Author: Stefan Lang

An interested observer of current affairs, researcher and writer

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