Extreme Temperature Diary- Monday January 8th, 2024/ Main Topic: Major Flooding Has Affected Britain Last Week and Will Clobber the Northeast This Week as A Consequence of Climate Change

UK floods – and deaths – will keep rising without proper defences and conservation | UK weather | The Guardian

UK floods – and deaths – will keep rising without proper defences and conservation

Helena Horton Environment reporter

Global climate breakdown is behind the increasingly stormy weather but domestic solutions are essential

Large areas of England are submerged under murky flood water, with homes damaged, farm crops rotting, and rail routes and roads unusable.

The UK is a rainy country, and some parts of it are quite used to regular floods, but the situation is worsening. Global climate breakdown caused by the burning of fossil fuels is causing more unpredictable and extreme weather events and the domestic infrastructure is underfunded and cannot cope sufficiently.

The practical consequences of increased flooding and a lack of investment in defences include rising numbers of people being stuck in homes they cannot insure, let alone sell, businesses suffering in the autumn and winter seasons, food production facing devastating hits, transport routes becoming unusable at times. And more people will die.

This week, Storm Henk followed Agnes, Babet and Debi, which came earlier in the winter and caused destruction of their own. The heavy rain comes at a time when the country is already sodden, with rivers and soils unable to take any more water.

The Environment Agency in England has advised people in flood warning areas to turn off gas, water and electricity supplies, move possessions upstairs, and move family, pets and cars to safety. This could be a warning heard by increasing numbers of people in future years.

Hannah Cloke, a professor of hydrology at the University of Reading, said: “Storm after storm this autumn and winter has made Britain a sopping wet sponge and there is nowhere for any extra rain to go. All that extra water is running straight off the landscape and our rivers are swelling up like the beautiful monsters they can be.

“Mild, warmer winters, heavier downpours of rain, and storms that hit us week after week are all examples of the impacts of climate change that are increasingly affecting the UK right now. This should be a reminder of the need to adapt our cities and infrastructure to deal with this hotter, more hazardous climate. It shows a small taste of the enormous costs we are building up in the years ahead if we fail to bring down emissions fast enough.”

This winter it was revealed by the National Audit Office that the number of properties to receive better protection from flooding by 2027 has been cut by 40%, and 500 of 2,000 new flood defence projects have been abandoned. The government claims the cuts are unavoidable due to high inflation, but it is likely to be more costly to rebuild flood-devastated areas than to protect them in the first place.

Guardian research has found that more than 4,000 of England’s vital flood defences are so damaged they are almost useless. The number of damaged flood defences has increased across all regions in the past five years.

The answer is not just found in concrete defences and sandbags. There is increasing evidence that the way rivers have been straightened and deepened, and their banks stripped of vegetation, has caused water to flow down to the towns and cities below, worsening the flooding. Stripping nutrients from the soil means it is less able to hold water. Restoring river habitats and creating new floodplains would both help nature and reduce flooding.

The rest of January is forecast to be more settled but clear skies should not bring complacency – the next downpours will return soon enough.

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