In his own blog, in The
Guardian of 13 January and The Sunday Mail today, Sunday, George Monbiot has
discussed the recent flooding and argues well that much of the present travails
are man made. As so often the policies
and regulations of the EU, the European Uncommunity play a major part. These are made worse by the inadequacies of
the Agriculture and Environment Department, DEFRA.
In Westminster, DEFRA is
not one of the top posts, dealing with things we take for granted, such as
food, water and the land. Most of its
work is an agency function for the EU and other international bodies and
internal agencies, to whom it is happy to allow the dirty work to be done, much
in the way that a rich landowner or land corporation leaves it to the tenants.
Politically, if anything,
it is a backwater, to use a word, where those who run it are usually going
nowhere and often going or have gone out of favour. It is also almost a part of the job
specification that the less you know about the relevant work the better. Labour had Margaret where my caravan has
rested Beckett who did not lose the plot but never realised that there was one.
The present boss, Owen
Patterson, is on course to make Margaret look like a top graduate from the
Royal College of Agriculture. But the
Monbiot article sticks to the point he is making, the flooding and how what
happens upstream and in the headwaters are critical to the amount and nature of
flows down river.
He is careful not to
extend and complicate the debate in order to avoid complicating and extending
the issues. He is right to do so and
barely hints of a broader, long term and more difficult set of policy problems,
those involving our water supplies for the future and in the long term.
We have had in very recent
times, not simply flooding when there are wet spells, but actual water supply
shortages and risks where there are long dry spells. What this means is that for some time now the
overall management of water supply and what has to be done and how has been on
the political back burner.
If a major crisis does
occur it is not something that can be fixed short term, or covered by importing
in a hurry and at great cost. We could
be in real trouble. There would not just
be the disruption to industry and commerce.
Given the fraught state of many urban areas there are real risks of
violence and failures of social control.
The existence of clean,
generally available and ample water supply plus drainage is very recent in our
history. It was not until the late 19th
Century that is came to our urban areas and in some rural and other places as
late as the mid 20th Century. I grew up
with people for whom the water supply was a modern miracle and married in a
village still without main drains and on a main road.
Now it is all taken for
granted and assumed that it is something that takes care of itself or is left
to a few experts to deliver. Meanwhile
DEFRA encourages the maximising of immediate run off of rain water and the
government does little or nothing to deal with storage, supply maintenance and
increase while wildly promising to build millions of houses for the many
millions more in the UK who expect as much water as they want at minimal
In general most of us
resent actually having to pay anything for water supply, I mean it falls from
the sky doesn't it and we do not want it in our own back yard.