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Flood victims feel government 'falls short of expectations'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 03, 2012

The floods in Cockermouth, Cumbria, in 2009 were the subject of research into flood victims' attitudes

The floods in Cockermouth, Cumbria, in 2009 were the subject of research into flood victims' attitudes

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Worries about government failure to act efficiently and fairly in the aftermath of extreme weather events can affect the extent to which residents are willing to protect themselves, according to researchers.

A team of academics at the University of Exeter looked into how society copes with more turbulent weather and a higher frequency of "mega-storms".

Researchers measured more than 350 residents' perceptions of government performances in dealing with the aftermath and the subsequent willingness of those individuals to take action.

Scientists examined attitudes in Cumbria in the North West and Galway in Western Ireland, which were both hit by heavy flooding in November 2009. Record rainfall was recorded in both countries, resulting in a number of deaths, properties being severely damaged and economic disruption.

Professor Neil Adger, who led the research, said: "The flooding of 2009 was devastating to both communities. Our study is the first to track the impacts of floods across two countries and how communities and individuals demand change after such events.

"When people in both studies felt that government had fallen short of their expectations, we found that the resulting perception of helplessness leads to an unwillingness to take personal action to prevent flooding in future."

The researchers in Devon worked with colleagues at the National University of Ireland Maynooth and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia.

Dr Irene Lorenzoni, of the Tyndall Centre, said: "Residents in Galway were significantly more likely to believe that their property would be flooded again than those in Cumbria.

"Yet it was Cumbrians who believed they had more personal responsibility to adapt to reduce future incidents."

Dr Conor Murphy, of the National University of Ireland, said: "Given the high exposure of development in flood-prone areas it is clear that both England and Ireland need to make major investments in building flood resilience with changing rainfall patterns induced by climate change.

"Political demand for those investments will only grow."

Professor Adger added: "Our research shows that climate change is likely to lead to a series of crises which will cause major disruption as instant short-term solutions are sought.

"We need to consider the implicit contract between citizens and government agencies when planning for floods, to enable fairer and smoother processes of adaptation."

Some 450 homes were flooded last week as widespread disruption continued in Devon and Cornwall after almost a week of relentless rain.

Hundreds of people's homes across the Westcountry were left swamped by the floods while two people died during the severe weather.

Michelle Conroy, a 21-year-old woman from Exeter who was sleeping rough in a tent on Western Way, was killed by a falling tree. John McNair, 77, from Blackheath in London, died when his car was swept off the road at Chew Stoke in Somerset.

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