Red Cross warns UK about low awareness of flood risk

Many people believe responsibility to prepare lies with local and national governments, not individuals

A house surrounded by floodwater in Fishlake, Doncaster in late 2019. PA
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Awareness about the risk of flooding in the UK among those who live in vulnerable areas is low, and many believe responsibility to prepare lies with local and national governments, not individuals, the British Red Cross has warned.

About 1.9 million people across the UK are living in areas at significant risk from river, coastal or surface water flooding, the charity said.

And the number of people at risk could double by the 2050s due to climate change, it said.

These findings come after a report gave a warning that flash flooding in London could become 150 per cent more likely in the next 50 years because of climate change.

It said in the worst-case scenario — if insufficient action is taken to tackle climate change — the danger of extreme rainfall will more than double by the 2070s, when compared to risk levels in the 1990s.

But awareness of flooding is low, according to Every Time it Rains, a report by the British Red Cross to learn from the people who have been, or are most likely to be, affected most severely by the problem.

Flooding can have a devastating effect on people’s lives,” said the charity, which has a long history of responding to flooding in the UK.

Its crisis response services support up to 1,000 people a year, whose lives have been affected by flooding. And the charity gives advice on how people can protect themselves before, during, and after a flooding emergency.

“The impacts are multiple and varied, and can interact with and exacerbate one another. Impacts include physical damage to homes and properties, loss of sentimental items, effects on mental and physical health and disruption to family life and community cohesion,” said the report.

Among the key findings, the report said awareness of flood risk “among those living in areas that are at risk of, and highly vulnerable to, flooding is low”.

“Awareness of how to access information on flood risk is low, but slightly higher among those who have previously experienced flooding.”

Storms and floods batter London and south-east England — in pictures

Adequate flood insurance is key to being prepared, it said. But there are “many barriers” to prevent people at risk from getting cover.

The government should work with regulators and industry to ensure that adequate and affordable insurance against flood damage is available to every household, particularly those most at risk, said the report.

“Many people — including those living in areas that are at risk of, and highly vulnerable to, flooding — are unaware of actions they can take to prepare,” it said.

And there is a strong consensus the responsibility lies with national and local governments, not individuals.

Some measures to raise awareness, such as flood risk maps, were successful, but more should be done, said the charity.

Its recommendations include improving preparedness, reducing impact and supporting community resilience at both the community and national levels.

But one of the most important was to build awareness, it said.

“National and local governments across all four nations should prioritise increasing awareness of, and providing specific support to, high social flood risk areas,” it said.

A fire engine negotiates a flooded section of road this summer. Getty Images

The constituent nations of the UK — England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales ― should also explore ways to improve the reach and effectiveness of early warning systems, particularly among those individuals and communities most at risk.

And local authorities should look to “explore ways to improve engagement with at-risk communities,” said the report.

“This could include investment in specific roles, such as community development officers, who can engage with communities through community hubs and create the spaces and mechanisms for community participation and partnership working,” it said.

A report into the risk of future flash flooding in London said in the worst-case scenario — if insufficient action is taken to tackle climate change — the danger of extreme rainfall will more than double by the 2070s when compared with risk levels in the 1990s.

This would involve 30 millimetres of rain falling in the space of an hour on an area as small as a neighbourhood of London.

A reading of 4mm per hour or more is considered heavy rain by the Met Office, while a threshold of 30mm will trigger flash-flood warnings.

Heavy rain flooded areas of London and the south-east of England in early November.

Rail and Tube trains were cancelled or delayed and parts of major roads and a motorway were also blocked in places.

Sections of the M25 in north London and at least three major roads — the A1, A41 and A40 arteries into the city — were blocked.

Updated: December 05, 2022, 12:01 AM
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