Socialist Worker

Flooding victims say ‘help came too late’

Climate catastrophe is here—and it’s causing storms and other forms of extreme weather. Sophie Squire spoke to people in South Wales who are battling the flood waters

Issue No. 2693

‘I was woken up by my sister at about 8am who told me to look outside—water was at the steps of my house and the water on the road went up to your knees,” Angela Gerard told Socialist Worker.

She lives in Pontypridd, a town of 35,000 people 12 miles north of Cardiff in South Wales. It has been devastated by record-breaking floods.

For some, the experience was utterly terrifying. “There were elderly people trapped in their homes, some of them had dementia and they didn’t know they’d been flooded,” Angela said.

One of the most severely hit areas in the country, Pontypridd was besieged by rapidly rising water when the River Taff burst its banks.

Over 500 homes were filled with sewage water—which carries the risk of spreading deadly infections.

People are furious at a delayed or absent response from local and national governments. Volunteers have been left to organise ad hoc food parcels and accommodation for those affected.

The Welsh government has promised £10 million to help councils deal with flood relief—but this paltry amount is too little too late.

“The council is saying it is going to release emergency funds to help, but it can’t do that until a meeting this Thursday,” said Angela. “That’s over two weeks too late,”

Casper Harris, who works in a health food shop in the town said, “We’ve seen no help—not from the Welsh government, certainly not from the British government.”

We need a plan that isn’t just focused on the town centre, but on our homes too

Angela

Flooded residents have been offered a measly £500 from the Rhondda Cynon Taf county borough council—a pitiful amount for those that have lost everything. Days after the flood, the town was still in chaos and residents were only just beginning the arduous and dangerous clean-up effort.

Some shops, such as Poundland, are open and trading. In other streets skips were filled with debris, and piles of sandbags remained. Further up the hill large generators were desperately attempting to pump excess water out of streets still under water.

Residents were scrabbling for critical equipment such as dehumidifiers.

But volunteers were reporting that some people can’t even afford the energy required to run them.

Residents are crying out a proper flood response system that means people can make emergency plans when needed.

Warning

Angela said an “amber warning” was in place ahead of the deluge—but such a warning isn’t unusual for Pontypridd.

“There was definitely a plan in place for dealing with flooding, yet there needs to be a different one,” she said.

“We need one that isn’t just focused on the town centre, but on our homes too.” The latest storm to rip through the town is just the latest disaster to hit Pontypridd.

The Rhondda valleys were once of the world’s most important coal mining regions. The area was devastated by the shutting down of the coal industry.

One brutal reminder of the dangers of a lack of planning is nearby Aberfan—the site of the 1966 disaster, which claimed the lives of 144 people.

I want Boris Johnson to come here—I want us to be able to take our anger out on someone

Decades of austerity, handed out by both Tory and Labour councils have heaped misery and desperation onpeople in Pontypridd. And the floods have wrecked some of the services that remain, such as Pontypridd Museum, which had to close in the wake of the disaster.

Museum worker Alex said “a lot of our exhibits have been badly damaged.”

“This is a loss to our community—we put on events and families come here”

In the Rhondda Valley some 35 percent of children live in poverty—one of the highest rates in Wales.

The cheapest housing in Pontypridd—like in many other areas of Britain—is built on floodplains. Such homes are more difficult to insure, and a number of those who were flooded had no insurance.

And while the national and local governments squabble about who picks up the bill for flood relief or weather defences, the residents of Pontypridd are left to pay the real price.

They have to piece their homes and their lives back together, in the face of escalating climate crisis and a Tory government that has left them to rot.

Storm Dennis has brought misery—but also fuelled a desire to fight back. Volunteers protested against the lack of a government response the weekend after the deluge.

One resident told Socialist Worker, “I want Boris Johnson to come here—I want us to be able to take our anger out on someone”.


Destruction in Blackpool in the wake of storm Ciara

Destruction in Blackpool in the wake of storm Ciara (Pic: Neil Terry)


Tories don’t care if your home is washed away

The Tory government’s management of extreme weather events in the past decade has exposed their contempt for working class people.

In the wake of Storm Dennis the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) blasted Boris Johnson and the Tories for their “shambles” of a response to flooding.

And in December Johnson was berated by local people in Fishlake, a village in Yorkshire that suffered horrific flooding.

A resident told him, “I don’t know what you’re here today for.”

Now key government ministers haven’t even turned up to some of the worst affected areas in the wake of Storm Dennis.

They fear the bad press. But it fits into wider disregard for how austerity and climate chaos impacts the poorest in society.

The floods have hit many Tory-voting areas, creating a crisis for some MPs.

Craig Whittaker is a good example. He’s Tory MP for Calder Valley in West Yorkshire and voted against climate change measures no less than 17 times.

Anger at the Tories after climate chaos sparks floods
Anger at the Tories after climate chaos sparks floods
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Whittaker also voted against extra funding for flood defences after the horrific Boxing Day floods of 2015.

Yet when Storm Ciara hit his constituency, Whittaker said he was “furious” that government funding took so long to filter through.

In 2019, the budget for flooding was £815 million. The Environment Agency advised that £1 billion should be put into flood defences per year to deal with the worsening crisis. This falls far too short. But just funding flood defences isn’t enough.

As climate change accelerates it will be necessary to create robust infrastructure that can deal with extreme weather events.

And emergency services will need to be better funded.

Last week the FBU said that the government made cuts worth

£8.7 million to services in areas where flooding poses a “severe risk to life”.

The effects of flooding are devastating and long lasting, homes often are made uninhabitable.

The financial cost of repairing a home that has been damaged by flooding is on average £30,000 according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

It should not be left to volunteers to provide emergency services, while the government ignores the victims who are suffering.

Extreme weather events are set to get worse—and soon.

New infrastructure like better flood defence systems will be needed to protect people from the ravages of climate catastrophe.

But it will also mean demanding a radical and urgent reordering of priorities in society—and fighting for one when the needs of people and planet are above the needs for profit.


Profit drive means more dangers

Intense competition for development driven by profit means more homes are being built on flood plains.

Flood plains soak up excess water and help prevent flooding.

Building on these plains means those homes are very likely to flood in the event of storms. And because the floodplain is congested, it also makes it more likely that homes elsewhere will suffer too.

According to the Committee on Climate Change—which provides advice to the government—Britain is building “faster in the flood plain than anywhere else”.

New homes built in areas at risk of flooding have risen dramatically in recent years from 7 percent in 2006-7 to 11 percent in 2016-17.

In Doncaster—a region that saw severe flooding at the end of 2019—6,000 new homes are set to be built in high risk areas.

There’s a clear reason for this growth—land on floodplains is cheaper.

Planning rules were also relaxed by the Tories, so high-risk sites are more likely to get approved. Developers are also allowed to disregard the advice of the Environment Agency.

Another factor is the power of the agricultural industry. To protect farmland, bosses are building flood defences—pushing water downstream into working class areas.


‘The poor suffer the most’—Jakarta resident speaks out on floods
‘The poor suffer the most’—Jakarta resident speaks out on floods
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Climate change means more rain and storms—and flooding

Record-breaking extreme weather events are one feature of the climate emergency.

A major factor is an unprecedented rise in global temperatures.

The United Nations climate scientists’ body warns that temperatures are set to shoot up by 3.5-4.8 degrees by 2080.

Rising temperatures are causing sea levels to rise because ice sheets and glaciers are melting.

Another key factor is that oceans have absorbed the heat that of greenhouse gas emissions have caused, causing them to expand.

This means in urban environments, rivers and waterways are more likely to burst their banks.

And coastal towns will suffer when storm surges break coastal barriers.

The horrifying results of climate crisis are already being felt in some of the poorest parts of the globe.

Jakarta, in Indonesia saw record-breaking floods in January after the city suffered its heaviest rainfall since records began.

And at least 28 people died and 59,000 people were affected in Mozambique after heavy rainfall in January.

Climate crisis is a global problem with an international solution—urgent and radical action to stop ecological destruction.


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