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Tuesday, 17 October, 2000, 13:19 GMT 14:19 UK
Worse floods ahead as world warms
upturned car in italian street
Southern Europe's infrastructure is devastated
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

In south-east England, local people say the floods of recent days are the worst for 40 years.

In the devastation of northern Italy, France and Switzerland, elderly villagers say they can remember nothing like this happening in generations.

But there are common threads to suggest that both areas have the same lesson to learn, and that their plight could soon become unremarkable.

The lesson is the folly of building homes and factories on flood plains, the areas where rivers naturally overflow during heavy rain.

Worried

The spread of human settlement, of roads and steel and concrete, means the floodwater has nowhere to go to soak away. So it inundates the buildings that have invaded its space.

two men with dogs
Rescuers prepare to set out
The Association of British Insurers is concerned that developers are building on flood plains and then abandoning householders to the risk of flooding.

It is urging the United Kingdom Government to intervene to prevent this happening with the 3m new homes planned in England.

As flooding becomes more frequent, more properties are at risk than previously thought. Yet there have been decades of warnings to central and local government.

The Environment Agency says: "We are working hard to influence policy and practice on development within the flood plain.

"The results of improved flood risk mapping show that nearly two million homes, businesses and other properties in England and Wales are within the boundary of the flood plain - the expected extent of flooding from rivers or the sea.

"We are doing all we can to avoid this figure growing. Evidence suggests that the results of our objections are having more impact and as a result more applications are being turned down."

In southern Europe, the spread of homes and industry has had a similar effect. And with towns and cities now invading the floodplains, the effects ripple outwards, causing worse damage in the undeveloped areas where the water is free to flow.

Certain

But what has happened recently could soon become relatively commonplace, if it is an early sign of climate change. And not only environmental campaigners believe that it is.

flooded rail tracks at lewes
England's floods caused chaos
The ABI says: "It is now certain that global warming is occurring. Furthermore, there is a reasonable consensus emerging that we are in for a period of much more extreme weather, resulting in more severe and more frequent floods."

Andrew Dlugolecki is director of general insurance development for CGNU, the UK's largest insurance group.

He told BBC News Online: "You can say the floods in the UK and southern Europe bear the fingerprint of climate change.

More frequent

"There are many other contributory factors - homes being built in stupid places, for example.

"The floods are not unprecedented, but they are unusual. And I think they will become more common.

"The latest work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirms that the climate is having an effect on the insurance industry."

The insurance industry is hard-headed enough to base its decisions on money. It is taking the threat of climate change seriously, wherever it occurs.

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See also:

12 Oct 00 | UK
Floods cause chaos
17 Oct 00 | Europe
Alpine flood chaos to continue
03 Oct 00 | Sci/Tech
Climate feels the Sun's effects
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