Over the last month large sections of the UK have been inundated by sea and river water and the production and allocation of sandbags has practically dominated the main news outlets. Are there enough?; are they in the right place?; who is responsible for supplying them?; who else can be filmed helping to place them? These were questions repeatedly asked. Not one newscaster, reporter. politician or local official has ever asked the most obvious question. Why is this 18th century form of technology (absorbent sand often in a porous sack) the main and practically the only last-ditch defence available to working and middle-class people in 21st century Britain? Is that really all the elite think they deserve? It is clearly the cheapest possible form of defence and one which cannot really prevent flood damage even though it may – in some circumstances – slow the ingress of water into houses and buildings.
In addition there seems to have been a conspiracy to hide incompetence behind one or other of two mantra’s. First ‘no one could have predicted this’ or second; ‘no one could have predicted it would be so bad’. Both rationalisations are of course nonsense. Floods of great magnitude have visited UK shores on a number of previous occasions. One as recently as 2007 and yet another in 2012. In addition, climate scientists have long predicted that due to global warming, such severe weather conditions creating storms and floods, are not just a possibility – but a probability. And anyone or any group who does not adequately prepare for some drastic event which has happened before, remains a distinct possibility and is now also an increasing probability are either fools or people who just do not care. In an advanced tax-collecting capitalist country, such as the UK, those who control the way tax-payers money is spent are exactly those who are responsible for such flood defences – and are selectively offering very little else except – sandbags!.
Unfortunately we cannot excuse government officials and politicians on the basis that they are fools, although that may be the case for a few individuals among them. This is because they are very good and looking ahead and preparing for future eventualities. In their preparations for future wars a constant concern of theirs is to update the latest in the expensive technology of warfare. Preparations for resisting future civil unrest against the system they uphold are also a constant focus for their attention and are well advanced, legally and materially. Indeed, where it effects them directly, they are also far-sighted with regard to flood defences. The ‘high-tech’ Thames Barrier system, protecting the city of London, costing the equivalent of billions in today’s devalued currency, was started 40 years ago – in the 1970’s. No reliance on a few low-cost sandbags for them. How far-sighted was that project for the protection of the politicians, the wealthy and privileged?
Of course anyone who has penetrated the smoke and mirrors of pro-capitalist ideology will have not been taken in by the clichés and common-sense rationalisations oozing out of the mouths of television news anchors, officials, politicians and reporters. They will have correctly identified all the faked patronising sincerity emanating from these directions – as just another load of verbal sewage. However, that is not the only form of muck they will have to deal with.
The next serious problem those communities now flooded will have to deal with is the effect of raw sewage. This is because yet another area of serious neglect are the existing sewage and urban drainage systems. These sewage and water supply systems, built by the Victorians with far fewer urban citizens in mind than the current populations of villages, towns and cities, are also crumbling and inadequate. Consequently, when floods occur, raw sewage is backed up and rises along with the flood water, to be soaked up by house bricks, carpets, furniture, fields, and of course sandbags.
The barely effective semi-porous sandbag defences will of course like sponges absorb the contaminated water and their surfaces, along with many other items, will become a serious viral and bacteriological health hazard to be disposed of – even when the water has gone. If, there is a subsequent outbreak of disease, among the young and the old as a consequence of the neglect of real substantial flood and sea defences along rivers and coastal areas (and it is by no means impossible), then this will present problems for the health services. It is to be hoped that such an outcome does not materialise for obvious reasons. Already stretched and in serious staffing, cultural ethos and infection difficulties, the UK health service is another system operating close to a disastrous collapse of its ability to maintain acceptable modern standards. Isn’t that something else that politicians and officials have been warned in advance about by medical staff?
It should be obvious that the previous neo-liberal governments of Labour and Tory and now ConDem elites – over decades – have sacrificed all those previous useful and necessary public services, either by neglect or by continued privatisation. Relatively efficient and cheap utilities and services have been replaced by expensive and inefficient private operated ones. Countless roads, bridges, schools and hospital buildings (also surviving remnants of previous periods of history) are in an appalling condition for an advanced country. And it has also been known for decades and now proved again that sea and river defences – everywhere – are woefully neglected and extremely inadequate. However, nothing better can be expected of an economic and political system which rewards the owners of capital, the obscenely rich and famous and is based upon the profit-motive, for it has now gone too far to correct itself.
The UK elite as with many other advanced capitalist countries elites has neither. the inclination nor the ability to correct their past and present neglect. Other capitalist countries, Holland for example, have in the past looked ahead and spent tax-payer money on high-quality and large-scale flood defence systems. Iceland, recently prosecuted corrupt and self-serving Bankers and refused to honour the debts they had incurred. Not so the UK, European and North American elites. These are hand in glove with the financial elite and their corrupt system. So much so that they have ramped up the sovereign debt to such a level, that even in the unlikely event that they eventually develop a conscience, they could no longer afford to repair or re-instate all the long neglected and damaged infrastructures that now exist. Not even an uprising could accomplish that.
The recent and past destructive flood and storm events in the UK and the USA – symptoms of the growing ecological and environmental crisis – arrive at a time when public finances in these countries have been squandered upon huge costly aggressive armed forces, invading other countries and in patching up the self-ruined financial system in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. So until enough people decide enough is enough and start to campaign against the capitalist mode of production and all it entails, high-tech solutions and astronomical bonuses, self-interested patronising officials and politicians will continue to exist on the one-hand; whilst low wages, zero-hours, poor facilities and services on the other will continue for the rest of us. And until such time, those who live near a river or the sea, will more than likely continue to get spades full of sham sympathy, along with further deposits of sandbags and sewage.
Roy Ratcliffe (February 2014)