Wales on flood alert amid warning of new normal

Businesses and homes in Wales have been told they cannot see flooding as an expectation as the nation marked two years since the onset of the February 2020 floods triggered by Storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge.

The CEO of Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has warned while progress to combat the threat of flooding has been made in the past two years the impact on the climate has also accelerated as the race between man made protection nature continues.

The storms of 2020 resulted in record rainfall and river levels across Wales, and some of the most significant and devastating flooding seen since the 1970s with 3,130 properties affected across the country.

The NRW added these, and subsequent storms experienced in Wales since, serve as a stark warning that record-breaking flooding is becoming a harsh new reality for Welsh communities in the future, and the need to act now to prepare for climate impacts is more pressing than ever.

NRW CEO Clare Pillman said: “Flooding is a deeply personal tragedy, and our thoughts continue to be with those still recovering and rebuilding.

“But as more and more communities affected by flooding each year count the cost of lost belongings, ruined homes and businesses, and as people live with lingering fears of future storms, we know that so much more needs to be done to prepare ourselves to face our future reality.

“COP26 and the ‘code red’ signals from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report certainly gave renewed impetus for governments to tackling this pressing issue, and we’ve seen a shift in how key players think about climate and its impacts closer to home.

“The central focus given to climate change in the Welsh Government’s Programme for Government, and the emphasis placed on mitigating future flood risk in the Co-operation Agreement between Labour and Plaid Cymru are all welcome strides forward.

“But while progress has certainly been made, the climate problem has also accelerated. Which is why our thinking and our actions to help mitigate and adapt to its impacts needs to go further and faster if we’re to secure the improved flood-risk outcomes we need for the people of Wales.”

Since the arrival of Storm Dennis – the second and most destructive of the three named storms to hit Wales in the space of four weeks in February two years ago, NRW said it had continued to invest in flood defences, inspecting and repairing where needed, and doing important maintenance work to ensure people and properties continue to feel the benefits.

It has also invested in its incident response teams and made changes and improvements to systems and processes to increase its own resilience to future flood incidents.

“Progress is also being made on the development of flood schemes across Wales, prioritising those communities most at risk,” it added.

It warned: “However, as climate change increases the likelihood for more extreme weather events to occur, the expectation is that risks will expand beyond the high-risk areas we know today.”

In response the NRW has launched a new flood map including climate change information for the first time, demonstrating how changes will affect flood risk over the next century and showing the potential extent of flooding assuming no defences are in place.

Pillman added: “Climate scientists have underlined that record floods are not anomalous, they are the beginning of a new normal, and the new records will continue to be exceeded, year after year.

“That is why it’s crucial that people trust in the data and the knowledge we share, to understand their flood risk and understand the actions they can take to lessen the impacts should the waters start to rise.

“While we welcome the additional funding NRW has received to increase our own capacity to prepare for and respond to these eventualities, we accept that we will never win the war against the forces of nature alone.

“But by working together, we have greater potential to mitigate against the impacts. Difficult decisions will need to be made, and it will take time, significant effort and a cultural and a behavioural shift to make the difference required.”

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