More than five million homes and businesses in the UK are at risk of flooding

Victims of flooding frustrated by Government support

Victims need clearer information on what they can expect in the aftermath of major flooding from the government and other authorities, new University of Exeter research shows.

In a new report, published this week, academics show the importance of action by politicians and officials for people’s recovery from the damaging effects of flooding.

They show how communications after major flooding in 2013/14 contributed to increasing conflict between flood-affected publics and authorities, making it more challenging for these groups to work together to combat future flood risk and build resilience.

The study documents the trauma and upheaval caused by flooding, and shows if the public feels the government has done all it can to tackle flooding they are better able to recover.

More than five million homes and businesses in the UK are at risk of flooding, and since 2013 floods have caused extensive damage to property and roads, as well as many millions of pounds of economic losses.

Experts from the Geography department at University of Exeter carried out repeat in depth interviews over a 12 month period and a survey with 1,000 members of the public following the 2013/14 winter floods in Somerset and Boston, Lincolnshire, as well as undertaking interviews with individuals and organisations that have roles in managing flood risk.

Dr Catherine Butler, who led the project, said: “this research shows yet again the negative impacts of floods on people’s health and wellbeing, but also highlights how government being seen to address people’s concerns and needs is important for their ability to recover.

“There is a real need to ensure that some communities are not left on their own to cope after floods and are given support to help reduce the impacts of future flooding.”

The report recommends better procedures for allocating emergency funding for flooding so communities, local authorities, and agencies have greater clarity about what support is available. It also highlights the importance of ensuring resistance and resilience measures are put in when rebuilding flooded properties to reduce the impact of flooding in the future. It suggests that policy makers should give more consideration to how government initiatives, such as the flood mitigation fund, could work in concert with insurance industry processes.

Dr Kate Walker-Springett, co-author of the report said: “With increasing occurrences of flooding these issues are likely to intensify in future if efforts are not made to support the development of lower cost solutions for high-risk communities that do not qualify under current economic assessments for flood defence funding.”

The study shows that people are willing to undertake actions to protect and improve the resilience of their homes but that there needs to be recognition of the limits of such measures and their suitability to different types of flooding and houses. Ultimately government action is important to ensure coordinated and successful responses that can offer long-term solutions.

Separate research published by the team also shows that distrust in government and authorities, affects the willingness of individuals to undertake their own adaptive actions to reduce the impacts of flooding.

Professor Neil Adger, Professor of Human Geography, said: “The stakes could not be higher. The gathering storm of climate change impacts makes it all the more urgent to make flood-affected communities resilient. This research shows that the performance and long-term commitment of government to flood response directly affects trust, individual responses and ultimately the wellbeing of thousands of residents and businesses across the UK”.

A total of 70 per cent of survey respondents said they agreed or strongly agreed that there are too many agencies with conflicting interests that are responsible for river management.

Almost all respondents wanted to see stronger planning regulations to prevent building on flood plains, improved river and land maintenance, development of large scale flood defences, and greater use of natural options for flood risk management.

Social and Political Dynamics of Flood Risk, Recovery and Response: A Report on the Findings of the Winter Floods Project was written by Catherine Butler, Kate Walker-Springett, Neil Adger, Louisa Evans and Saffron O’Neill. Further information can be found on the project webpages.

The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The research also received support from the National Institute for Health Research Health Protection Research Unit (NIHR HPRU) in Environmental Change and Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in partnership with Public Health England (PHE), the University of Exeter, University College London, and the Met Office.

Date: 28 June 2016

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