Why the flooding in the Rhondda is a political failure

We stand in solidarity with people in the Rhondda whose homes have been flooded for the third time this year, and we support Leanne Wood’s call for an independent inquiry into this repeated flooding. Wood, Member of the Senedd for the Rhondda, claims that urgent assistance is required to stop this happening again, saying that people were angry and frustrated, and that work could have already been carried out to stop the flooding this time around.

Chris Bryant, the MP for Rhondda, has called for “solutions” rather than an inquiry. However, surely any decent inquiry will be based around finding where the faults are and therefore how they might be fixed. We believe that this is a cynical sidestep, because unsurprisingly, it would be his party that would be under the microscope.

To quote Lucy Jones, the renowned seismologist, “Natural hazards are inevitable; the disaster is not”, a highly relevant point which could be applied to these floods.

What is most frustrating is how many politicians will bat this off as a “natural” disaster. It is exceptional how quickly they become powerless in the face of a crisis. But, there should be serious questions as to what has caused this flooding and to what extent this is an infrastructural problem. In the last set of floods in February, many claimed that a significant cause was blocked drains and culverts. While the ongoing effects of austerity are all around us, what is often overlooked is how it has impacted our mundane everyday infrastructure (such as drainage systems). This is why disasters such as floods are fundamentally political disasters. As the climate crisis unfolds, and extreme weather events become more common, we should fully expect to see politicians to claim that they’re powerless to deal with such “natural” disasters.

Once again, people have kindly donated money to help out the affected households, showing a warmth of spirit that we also witnessed in February. While we hope that this provides some relief and support to those who need it, we are also concerned of the potential that these funds, set up by the likes of Bryant (who has set up his own GoFundMe page) will divert attention (intentionally, perhaps) away from fundamental and avoidable governmental failures. Though these flooding fundraisers do not necessarily “fill in” or replace any particular service previously provided by the state, we believe that it could set a dangerous precedent whereby donations provide a plaster for underlying problems, allowing these to be ignored.

What is concerning is that this appears to signal an increasing trend by politicians in directly turning to charitable models in the face of government shortcomings. We have seen this pattern with the recent fundraising efforts for the NHS, with people’s kindness being exploited by an elite who themselves brought the NHS to its knees, and who are more than willing to turn important social provisions into charities. We fully expect the elites to double-down on such efforts as the looming economic crisis unfolds, so we need to remain vigilant towards any top-down efforts to raise funds in order to patch up their own failures and divert attention away from the causes of such crises.

Beyond this, the government (both local and Welsh Government) and agencies involved need to accept responsibility around these floods, and to open up a broader debate around flood risk and mitigation in the future. It is not enough to bail out the water and then pay off families with charitable donations every time. Instead, we need an approach to build and maintain appropriate infrastructure that minimises and, where possible, completely avoids floods in the future. This task becomes increasingly urgent as experts claim that we need to build our resilience to flooding in face of the climate emergency. However, with recent news that the Welsh Government only achieved 4% of its target of planting 2,000 hectares of trees a year in 2019-20, it is clear that climate change strategies in Wales are little more than buzzwords at present. With this in mind, it seems such mundane proposals for keeping communities safe from flooding have sadly become a radical and utopian idea in today’s Wales.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://undod.cymru/en/2020/06/21/llifogydd-rhondda-flooding/