Flooding crisis: Forecasting service must be a priority

IF anyone was in any doubt about global warming, the extreme weather events of the past month would have proved that it is not just a theory, but an uncomfortable reality.

More than 260 homes around the country have been flooded so far and another 230 are under threat, while 130 houses have been marooned according to the Government’s National Coordination Group. Multiply those figures by 10 to get an idea of the scale of the misery facing thousands of families around the country.

Yesterday, six houses in Athlone, Co Westmeath, were evacuated as the owners gave up a three-week battle to keep rising flood waters from their homes. That is on the top of the 260 families nationwide that have already had to leave their homes, some of them with little prospect of returning.

Even the Taoiseach, who took almost a month to make personal visits to flooded areas outside his home county of Mayo, must be aware of the urgency of the situation and the need for an immediate introduction of a flood forecasting service.

His response, so far, has been less than edifying. He even suggested that some householders abandon their homes for good and move to higher ground, a remark that is simply gob-smacking in its crassness and insensitivity.

Mr Kenny said the flooding crisis would be the first item on the agenda at the Cabinet’s first meeting of 2016 tomorrow. In that event, the first decision must be to immediately finance and implement a proper flood forecasting service. It is ironic that Ireland was the first country in the world to have a weather forecasting service, when it was established on Valentia Island in Kerry on October 8, 1860, yet, unlike many other countries, it still does not have a proper, long-term flood alert system in place.

The Government has agreed in principle to the establishment of such a service by Met Éireann and the cost of doing so has been put at around €2.5 million.

That amount seems like small change compared to the hundreds of millions’ worth of damage caused by flooding since the start of December. It has been estimated that Met Éireann would require 15 extra staff to provide the service — again, not a huge figure, especially considering that the service’s staff numbers have been halved over the past decade.

“You can’t avoid flood, and you can’t entirely defend against flooding, but you can do more to prepare for it, and to give people more time to respond and get themselves and their possessions out of the way.” Those are the words of Dr Conor Murphy of the Irish Climate Analysis and Research Units. A dedicated flood alert system would allow forecasters to monitor and predict river conditions and flood risks.

He estimates that a flood forecasting system could give homeowners and businesses along the River Shannon up to two weeks to prepare.

That, literally, could mean the difference between life and death for those affected.

The Government insists that its response to the flood crisis is working but, considering the untold misery visited upon so many families, it clearly isn’t.

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