Kevin Potter reports from Wales on the impact and causes of record flooding
Wales has been particularly badly hit in the recent wave of floods resulting from successive storms. Storm Dennis brought over a month’s worth of rain to South Wales in less than 48 hours. Devastating flooding at Pontypridd, Abergavenny, and Monmouth have been headline stories, but across the country many people have had to evacuate their homes, which have been damaged and in some cases all but destroyed. Roads and rail lines have been closed across South Wales, submerged in water or hit by landslides. And tragically the floods have led directly to death as a man fell into the River Tawe and was swept away. Rain is still falling.
There is widespread anger at the lack of investment and help from local authorities and central government, despite years of warnings; for example, Aberdulair has been flooded no less than 30 times in the last four years according to Wales Online.
It has not gone unnoticed that Boris Johnson has refused to visit a single flood-hit area. Compare this with his reaction to the, less severe, flooding in Yorkshire and the Midlands last November, which just happened to be in the run-up to the general election. Then he was more than happy to visit for photo ops and even called a Cobra meeting, following condemnation from Jeremy Corbyn. The difference in response this time demonstrates the extremely limited extent to which Johnson and his Tory government actually care about the victims of flooding when he feels there is no political gain, he feels no imperative to act. The fact that Wales remains largely a barren territory for the Tories will no doubt also shape the response of a party notorious for prioritising its heartlands and ignoring the rest of us.
On the surface, one might view the flooding as a tragic but natural disaster. But the truth is that increased flooding is intrinsically linked to climate change, which is a product of the capitalist mode of production. Further, the scale of devastation wrought was also avoidable had successive governments invested in flood protection and were profit not the prime motivation in the way we manage our landscape.
A warming planet increases precipitation. Climate science tells us the air can hold around 7% more moisture for every 1 degree centigrade of temperature rise. Our planet has already warmed by over one-degree centigrade above pre-industrial temperatures, but we are currently on course for, in the worst-case predictions, four degrees of warming. With increased moisture retention comes increased frequency of storms and heavy intense rainfall.
As so often it is people and regions already struggling under the privations of capitalism that must bear the consequences of its destructive and irresponsible behaviour.
South Wales is, in many ways, a prime example of the neglect of communities across Britain. The effect of deindustrialisation and financialsation since Thatcher’s neoliberal revolution is well known for its impact upon the former mining communities of the Welsh valleys. But the damage to the area runs much deeper than high unemployment and low pay. Amplified by the effects of Tory austerity, local authorities in Wales do not have the funds to invest in basic infrastructure, let alone flood prevention. Schemes have been put in place, to mixed effect, in Cardiff, but towns and villages across Wales are left to effectively fend for themselves. Much anger is directed at local authorities, and it is often legitimate, but in truth, the responsibility lies in Westminster and with our broken, London centric, economic model.
Our private insurance system has left many of those affected with no financial recourse to rebuild homes and lives. Our government, like the capitalist infrastructure it represents, treats these events and those affected as externalities, despite bearing much responsibility, and victims can hope for little in the way of compensation.
Wales has not yet begun to recover and the cost of the floods is not yet fully appreciated, but once the water recedes it will be counted in lives ruined.
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