For the residents of York, this week began very normally. It is entirely usual for the river Ouse to rise and spill over to cover their adjoining banks. What has occurred, however, is not usual at all. Seeing the worst floods since 2000, the city has had to contend not only with the rising water levels but with the media attention the floods have attracted. Not that York is a stranger to international fame, (the city, as we all know, is world famous), but it is the rubber-neckable element of this unfortunate event which has got everyone talking.
And talk they have. And tweeted, and gossiped, and, most importantly, taken a lot of photographs. It seems we are compelled to document every aspect of our lives, especially with our smartphones at our fingertips. Countless images have surfaced over the last few days, varying massively in quality. Some, captured hastily, are pixellated nonsense, reliant on a vested interest and a decent imagination. Some, however, are quite simply breathtaking, including those taken by One&Other’s own, Ben Bentley.
Let’s face it, the floods really are photogenic. It’s the strange, otherworldly appearance of an environment so alien to how you remember it. Somehow, as we stare at the unrivalled might of nature, we forget how it should look, confused as we are as we observe and photograph. It’s indefinable, this irresistible sensation, and we are all guilty of feeling it.
But spare a thought, please, for the 200,000 homes which will be left uninsurable by this time next year. Dr Martin O’Neill, a lecturer in the Department of Politics at the University of York, over on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation website, claims that due to the damning effects of both climate change and political shake-ups, flood insurance could face an unconstrained free market, which would result in the ‘possibility of a social and economic disaster’.
It’s been argued that home-owners should be made fully responsible for their decision to live in a flood-affected area, and that any minimal standards of fairness (with reference to flood insurance) are unquantifiable. However, critics have also argued that changing weather patterns and financial constraints should be taken into account by insurers, accepting that home-owners may not have the choice to live elsewhere.
Many homes and businesses have been affected by the floods, which have generated millions of pounds worth of damage, as well as the heartache, which is impossible to attach a value. The UK’s current flood insurance regime ends in 2013, and by observing some simple truths, it is argued, a free market could easily avoided, resulting in more ‘solidaristic’ measures, meaning that those at lower risk from flooding would contribute to the support of those at higher risk. However, the scale of the contribution would be dependent on insurance costs reflecting the level of risk faced by prospective claimants.
The catalyst for these proposed changes is the theory that socio-spatial flood vulnerability (meaning the possibility of flooding, proximity to medical facilities, availability of insurance, etc) correlates easily with areas of poverty and deprivation, lower income, higher disability, lone parents and unemployment. Gordon Hector, Public Affairs Manager for Joseph Rowntree Foundation, puts it very clearly when he writes, “vulnerability is about your social context, not just your physical environment.”
What we must be aware is that, while the many attractive and evocative photos emerging from York’s residents’ perambulations around the various waterlogged areas of the city are enjoyable to look at, there are far less enjoyable situations occurring miles, metres, even from where you are; situations that, unfortunately, are set to get even worse.