State not prepared for weather 'disasters'

 

THE GOVERNMENT has done “nothing of significance” to prepare for another weather disaster as it approaches the first anniversary of last winter’s “havoc”, an NUI Galway (NUIG) geographer has said.

Much of this could have been avoided with better management and planning, as already identified in the Oireachtas environment committee report published last July, Mr Hickey said.

The NUIG lecturer was speaking in Galway before publication by Four Courts Press last night of his analysis, entitled Deluge: Ireland’s Weather Disasters 2009-2010. Mr Hickey said one immediate practical step would be to use the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) to move residents in flood-risk areas into nearby “ghost estates” on higher ground.

Houses most vulnerable to repeat flooding could be demolished, which would help to reduce the oversupply of housing stock and would encourage completion of some ghost estates.

It was also imperative that a climate change minister should be appointed to Cabinet, who would be empowered to co-ordinate preventative measures. The reality is that Ireland will be prone to more extreme weather events, due to climate change, he said.

Such a Cabinet post could also include responsibility for an independent mediator to assist families and businesses affected by flooding.

Many families and businesses affected over the past winter could be forced into taking expensive legal action due to the response of banks and insurance companies to date, Mr Hickey said.

“You already have many families who are facing into a second Christmas without their home and other individuals who have experienced illness and stress due to the flooding or the cold snap or both.”

Mr Hickey told The Irish Times: “Much of this could be avoided with a less short-term approach by the State.”

Mr Hickey’s analysis examines how a 48-hour period of intense rain from November 18th to 20th last year was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” in relation to the subsequent flooding in the west, south and midlands.

The heavy rainfall of the two previous summers could have caused severe flooding during those following winters and it was only luck that it was avoided.

It was also pure luck that no one perished in the flooding, particularly in Cork where people woke up with “water lapping around their ankles”, he said.

Mr Hickey attributed blame to the Cork City Council, Cork County Council and the ESB for their collective failure to communicate adequately in advance of last year’s flooding of Cork city.

Mr Hickey said the ESB was caught in a dilemma, given the fact that high water levels on the Shannon and Lee system generated cheaper electricity. However, he believed the board would have to take a more “precautionary approach” to management.

Mr Hickey said the questionable approval of planning permission for construction on flood plains exacerbated the “scale, depth and duration” of flooding.

Only for the emergency opening of the new Dublin-Galway motorway’s final section, Galway city would have been completely cut off from the rest of the island for several weeks, he claimed.

He said local authorities’ resources were “completely insufficient”, and paid tribute to the many “ordinary people” who “responded magnificently to the crises as they unfolded, either individually or through voluntary services and agencies”.

Mr Hickey noted that three more events were thrown by “nature into the mix” – a meteorite strike, an earthquake in Co Clare and the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland.

Referring to the air travel chaos caused by the volcanic ash cloud, Mr Hickey said it may be time to consider a land bridge between Ireland and Britain.

WEATHER DISASTERS MAIN FINDINGS:

  • Combined cost of last winter’s flooding and cold spell estimated at €1 billion
  • Galway the worst affected county
  • Nama should be directed to move residents of flood-risk housing into nearby ghosts estates, which should be completed
  • Little Government action in spite of likelihood of repeat severe weather events due to climate change.
  • ESB, Cork city and county councils share blame for poor communication over Cork city flooding