Social impact of floods ‘should be planned for’

Major flooding does not only destroy homes and vital infrastructure - it has a devastating effect on the physical and mental health of those caught up the catastrophe.

A new study of the 2005 Carlisle floods has shown that alongside the obvious potential for death, injury and health risks from contaminated water, flood victims can also suffer lasting psychological problems caused by loss of homes and personal possessions.

Three people died and about 6,000 Carlisle residents were hit by flood waters when 200mm of rain fell in 48 hours. About 60,000 homes in the area were also left without power.

Writing in CIWEM’s (the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management) new Journal of Flood Risk Management, researchers described how the trauma of the flood still remained with Carlisle residents nearly a year and a half later.

Their study found that the most stressful phase was spending months drying out and renovating their homes – a situation made worse by problems with insurers, builders and decorators.

The authors of the study, Dr Ian Convery, from the University of Cumbria and Cathy Bailey from the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology, recommended that these issues should be included in funding for flood alleviation schemes.

They said agencies should work together to train highly-skilled support centre personnel with local knowledge of the community affected to help victims.

The authors said: “Such centres can provide one point of contact for potentially multiple emotional and practical problems.

“Crucially, we suggest that these centres require both strong multi-partnership and multi-agency working and highly skilled support centre personnel who have local knowledge and understanding of the affected community.

“In this way, post-disaster local needs may be contextualized and responded to in a way that both draws on existing local knowledge and expertise and further strengthens long-term community-based support.”

The journal’s publication comes just days after large swathes of the UK, particularly north east England, was hit by flash floods leaving six dead in weather-related incidents (see related story.

Kate Martin

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