Beneath the murky flood water

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
17 February 2014

The real impact of the past three months of flooding remains shrouded in secrecy. Ministers have been covering their backs, while official figures, when provided at all, have deliberately played down the extent of the damage.

In fact, during the first month, the government found very little to say about the floods. Never mind the fact that December's floods in the north of England and Scotland, hit town centres, caused tens of thousands of homes to be evacuated and resulted in 200,000 suffering power cuts!

It was only when the rich south of England was flooded this January that the government felt it had to be seen to be doing something! Even then, the focus of the coalition's attention was on its own heartlands - the Somerset Levels and the Tory constituencies along the Thames Valley. But ministers didn't seem to have much to say about the floods in Wales - which were just as bad, if not worse.

Yet even the vague estimates available show the scale of the disaster: up to 500,000 damaged homes - including 6,000 at least which have been under water since the beginning of December! Over a million have been affected by power cuts. And this is not to mention the severe damage to public infrastructure, like roads, bridges and railways.

Running for cover

Yet, by the middle of last week, after 12 weeks of flooding, the resources which had been mobilised to contain the floods, repair the damage and rescue the households in distress, were still derisory.

Some large pumps and heavy-duty tidal defence equipment had been brought from Holland and Denmark. According to the assistant Chief of Staff himself, just 2,200 sailors, soldiers and RAF crews had been deployed to do the work on the ground, with another 3,000 "on standby" are still waiting to be deployed. And just 11 helicopters were put "on standby" for the entire territory!

Ministers were far quicker to deny the scale of the damage and refuse to take responsibility, than to do something about it. At first, they tried to blame the Environment Agency. Then, when this failed to convince people, the official line shifted to portraying the floods merely as a "natural disaster" due to exceptional weather, against which nothing could have been done. Finally, global warming has become the preferred justification in high places. But isn't this rather ironical - and hypocritical - coming from a government whose Environment Secretary was still stating last September that climate change "is something we can adapt to over time and we are very good as a race at adapting"! Over time? What a joke! But then this is only meant to be a justification, to cover the back of the coalition. One should not look for a plausible explanation of what happened in any of these statements!

A question of social organisation

Certainly, "exceptional" weather conditions were a factor in these floods, as was (and is) global warming. But beyond these causes, the catastrophic consequences of today's flooding are just as certainly man-made. The government's own Committee on Climate Change estimates, for instance, that £3bn worth of damage would have been avoidable, had the right measures been taken early enough!

After all, the floods were predictable. Didn't we see large-scale flooding in 2000/01, 2002/3, 2007 and 20011/12? As to global warming, it has been known about for years and the government's own scientific bodies have issued repeated warnings.

Despite all of this, little was done. Instead, the budget of the Environment Agency has been slashed and its workforce cut by 25%! Many flood-related projects have been cancelled or postponed. As to the reduction of CO2 emissions - the main known cause of global warming - there was never any serious compulsion on companies to make the necessary investment out of their profits. And there's even less now, after Cameron's "bonfire of regulations". Nor are farmers compelled to adopt forms of agriculture and techniques which would help to prevent floods. Quite the contrary, in fact.

Of course many things could be done to protect the population from future floods. Large-scale public works could be planned against sea and river flooding. Some, at least, of the 5 million households living in homes at risk of flooding could be rehoused in safer places. Farming methods designed to retain more water in the soil and consolidate it, could be used. CO2 emissions could be reduced much more quickly and more drastically, etc.,...

Would this require considerable funds? Yes, it would. But this wouldn't be unaffordable in this rich society. However, what it would require, is the removal of a number of obstacles which prevent the rational organisation of society: first and foremost, the profit motive, which rules all economic activity and second of all, private property, which prevents the land from being shared and used for the benefit of all.