By: MIKE JOHNSON
IN THE beginning, around the year 2,000BC, a report of the world’s first flood was recorded on a series of clay tablets known to scholars as the Epic of Gilgamesh.
It tells how the gods, in their fury, unleashed a flood, which lasted seven days and seven nights. It covered the earth to a great height, destroying all human life thereon, except for those in a giant boat, who survived.
This might sound rather like a biblical story in the Book of Genesis, in which Noah built his famous ark but it has been repeated over the centuries, where floods, whether from the sea, rivers or groundwater, have caused havoc in every continent of the world. No matter how many times they happen, communities seem to have never learnt the lessons or taken adequate precautions before the next one occurs.
So it was that, when a month’s average rainfall fell in just a few hours in central England in July, no-one was prepared for the chaos which followed. Rivers burst their banks and the floodwater surged into towns and villages with their inadequate drainage systems. Vehicles were swept away in the path of the torrents of water, homes and businesses were submerged and people were drowned. Similar conditions had occurred in the north of the country a month earlier.
In the days that followed, communities were cut off, stranded families were air-lifted to safety and hundreds of thousands of people had no drinking water. It took time for the emergency services to react with supplies of bowsers, giant water containers and bottled water, but it was not enough and people asked: “Why had nobody prepared for a situation such as this?” The simple answer is that government money originally allocated to flood defence had been spent elsewhere.
It might be a good idea to look first into other factors that contributed to the flooding, In the mad rush for cut-price diets, an agricultural landscape has been created without hedges and trees. For convenience, land had been ploughed in the direction of a slope rather than across it, so instead of the water being contained, it rushed in channels downhill. As it continued its path, layers of silt were swept along with it. This silt then flowed into the villages and blocked the already inadequate drains.
This leads us to the question of why the drainage systems can’t cope. After the severe floods of 2000, the government declared the devastation “a wake up call” and promised immediate action. Since then, there have been 20 reports from various bodies and committees but little seems to have actually been done. In 2005, responsibility for flood defence was handed over to the Environment Agency.
During the following two years, more money was made available, bu, in 2006, the Agency’s budget was slashed by 14 million pounds, with further cuts thought to be in the pipeline later this year. That, of course, won’t happen now that Gordon Brown has moved from the Exchequer to become Prime Minister. How a change of job can change one’s perspective. To cap all this, a massive government project is in hand to build vast new areas of suburbia on designated flood plains. This is contrary to both logic and the protestations of the Environment Agency.
Floods were once regarded as an act of god, as Gilgamesh and Noah believed. Now they are blamed on climate change and global warming. Meteorologists say that the jet stream, a fast-moving belt of air 36,000ft above the earth, which controls the movement of bad-weather systems, has moved further south this year than usual.
Uncertainty about what the future holds is, we are told, one of the reasons why British mothers are having fewer babies than at any time in history. They worry too much about the world into which babies are being born, according to statistics produced by a children’s charity.
Once upon a time, youngsters used to play in parks on their own until it was dark at least. They used to go into the woods and build dens, go to school on their own and generally be trusted by their parents not to get into trouble. All that has changed. Mothers, in particular, now see the world outside as a dangerous place, with lurking paedophiles and the threat of terrorism, they ask themselves: “What kind of world is this for a child?”
In 1970, 80 per cent of primary school children made the journey from home to school on their own. Today the figure is below nine per cent. In 1970, the average nine-year-old girl was allowed to wander freely more than 800m from her front door. Now the limit is the front gate. The Children’s Society, which has researched these figures, says we are in danger of “raising children in captivity” and many are growing up without forming friendships with others of their age.
When I go to my local beaches, I find them full of kids, but on closer observation they are almost all under the watchful eye of a parent or guardian. Given the terrible experience of the McCann family on holiday, whose daughter disappeared from her bed while they were dining only 50 yards away, is it any wonder mothers are so fearful? Whatever happened to the world of Just William, The Famous Five and Swallows and Amazons? These were fictional tales of children from another time, allowed by their parents to play freely. Reality, these days, has sadly put an end to this.