Wed, Feb 06, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Flooding — a British disaster waiting to happen

We know floods kill, wreak havoc and cost billions. We also know they are coming. So why are relevant authorities and homeowners not doing anything about them?

By Fiona Harvey  /  The Guardian

However, the Association of British Insurers is less confident. A spokeswoman for the association showed how badly the talks have broken down, saying: “If you find out anything from the government, do let us know, because they’re telling us nothing.”

In the absence of information, more than 200,000 households are in limbo, not knowing whether they will be insured after June.

It is possible to protect houses against flooding with simple measures such as airbrick covers and sandbags. Clarke has installed a system of guards that can be slotted in place around his home: “It’s very effective.”

However, most people in flood-prone areas are failing to do anything to protect their homes. In part, this is the fault of the insurance companies, which often refuse to pay for such protection, but it is also because people fear that the sight of flood prevention equipment will scare off potential buyers and cut the value of their property. So, despite the warnings, people are just not helping themselves.

They should — urban flooding is now more likely than ever, Collins says. As we build more densely in cities, and pave over a vastly increasing area, the rain has nowhere to go.

“You might be in a house that has never flooded before, but because of all the new building, you may suddenly become vulnerable, because the way the surface water flows has changed. At the moment, the only way you will find that out is when you have a flood,” Collins says.

It does not have to be this way, he says: “They [the construction companies] could look at this, they could work out where the water is likely to go, they could warn people, and you’d have thought they should, wouldn’t you? But there is no obligation on them to do so, and so they don’t.”

Sixty years after the Great Floods, we know that flooding is not a question of if, but when. The widespread complacency and slowness to act on the part of all the major players — government, infrastructure companies, utilities, builders, insurers, even householders — are deadly serious.

“We are just not facing up to reality,” Collins says.

Our failure now to protect what we value will cost us dear when the worst happens.

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