As the flood water dries up, the extent of the chaos and destruction left by Storm Babet has become clear.
With at least seven people dead, over one thousand homes flooded, and infrastructure damage that will cost billions, communities across Britain have been left to pick up the pieces.
The extent of the suffering is harrowing. In Chesterfield, an 87-year-old woman was found dead by her son, floating face down in floodwater. Emergency services were unable to enter her house due to the flooding, which went up to eye-level.
A man in Aberdeenshire was also found dead trapped inside his car, three days after he and his vehicle were swept away by floodwater.
On top of this, thousands of families have been displaced. Entire neighbourhoods across England and Scotland have been evacuated, with residents having to wait until Christmas to return – if at all.
More flooding could hit parts of Britain this week after heavy downpours from Storm Babet left hundreds of properties submerged.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) October 23, 2023
The coming weeks will offer little respite, however. Britain’s third storm within the past month, Storm Ciarán, is set to hit southern parts of the country this week. And more carnage is set to follow, with over 70 flood warnings already issued.
The apocalyptic scenes brought by Storm Babet weren’t down to a freak weather event, but were the foreseeable result of rising sea temperatures.
Climate scientists have been warning for decades that warming oceans would lead to increasingly extreme weather. It’s no coincidence that this trio of storms arrived shortly after the hottest September on record.
What is surprising, however, is how quickly things have deteriorated.
For example, a 2021 flood risk plan from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) estimated that around 440 homes and businesses in the town of Brechin would be at risk of flooding by the 2080s.
But the flooding brought by Babet led to the evacuation of 400 homes – 60 years ahead of schedule.
The prophecy of climate catastrophe is no longer a far-off threat. It is now a grim reality.
Flooding is only one part of the problem. Record temperatures over the summer have also led to reservoirs running dry, roads melting, and railroads buckling.
One thing is abundantly clear: British capitalism is woefully underprepared for the climate crisis.
What is the Tory government doing to prevent these disasters from happening again? Slashing away at vital funding, of course!
Over the past decade of Tory rule, the budget for the Environment Agency (EA) has been axed by over a quarter, with 2000 jobs gone. The specific funding for environmental protection work has been cut by over 50%.
With such a critical shortage of funds, flood defences are rarely inspected, and are ineffectively maintained. As one recent survey found, over 4,000 of England’s flood defences are almost useless.
New defences outsourced to private contractors often don’t prove up to the task at all. In Horncastle, Lincolnshire, flood defences costing £8 million completely failed to prevent the town from flooding.
Add to this the austerity forced on local councils, and cuts to emergency services, and it’s no wonder that storms Agnes and Babet – and soon to be Ciarán – have wreaked such havoc, leaving thousands destitute.
Residents feel angry and helpless. As one resident of Retford, Nottinghamshire told the Tory environment secretary Therese Coffey on Sky News:
“I sat for an hour-and-a-half in a pub car park in the dark because we didn’t know where to go, because everyone we contacted didn’t help. Nobody replied. I phoned the police. They told me they couldn’t do anything. I phoned the fire brigade – they couldn’t do anything.”
Another resident told Coffey in no uncertain terms: “We were just left again…just left to our own devices.”
‘We were left to our own devices again.’
Environment Secretary @ThereseCoffey meets residents of Retford whose homes have been damaged by flooding caused by Storm Babet.
📺 Sky 501, Virgin 602, Freeview 233 and YouTube pic.twitter.com/TUbUWhR30S
— Sky News (@SkyNews) October 23, 2023
What was the minister’s response to these damning accounts? She assured the residents that there was “no lack of investment”! As if this would provide comfort to those who’ve already had their homes destroyed!
None of this suffering is inevitable. The Tories would have us believe that there simply isn’t enough money to spend on these services. Meanwhile, their chums in the City of London sit on mountains of idle wealth.
We must take that wealth out of the hands of the billionaire class, so it can be used to repair damaged homes, build reliable flood defences, and fund vital public services.
We know that profiteering private contractors can’t be trusted to protect our communities from flooding. This work should be carried out under public ownership and workers’ control.
Despite all the ruling class’ empty promises about the ‘green transition’ and reaching ‘net zero’, as long as capitalism remains intact, climate breakdown will continue to bring chaos and suffering.
The only way we can end the climate crisis is to fight for socialist revolution.