Thursday, July 26, 2007

British response to flooding: opinion piece

Times Online: … I hate to intrude on the British love of a disaster, but haven’t the emergency services done brilliantly? Far from the “1m victims of the deluge” promised in a Daily Mail headline yesterday morning, there are 350,000 people without tapwater, but not without drinking water, 50,000 were without power for 24 hours, and 10,000 have been moved out of their homes. As I write, we do not know of anybody who has died as a direct result of the floods. Strenuous work overnight by the military and the fire service saved the power station from flooding.

… [W]ithout in any way demeaning the nuisance and misery caused to hundreds of thousands of people in Central England; if this is a disaster, I am a tomato.

The Government has proved itself calmly competent. Those of us (myself included) who feared that Gordon Brown might lack the necessary “feel your pain” contortions of Tony Blair in an emergency have been proved wrong: the pragmatic, unhysterical approach of the new Prime Minister has suited the country well. No soundbites; no grimaces; no posturing.

Perhaps it is trite to point out that people around the world are not so lucky. I hope not. Hundreds of people have died in flooding in Asia in the past few weeks: 750 in India, 150 in China, 350 in Pakistan.

Millions are homeless. Flooding in Bangladesh kills hundreds every year and displaces millions more. No insurance company is going to rebuild their homes. And we in the UK do not generally care very much.

According to the World Health Organisation, 1.8 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases; 90 per cent are children under 5, mostly in developing countries. Nearly nine in ten of those are attributed to unsafe water supply, inadequate sanitation and hygiene.

I say again, with apologies to those flood victims to whom it might sound flippant: how very lucky we are.

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