Britons demand more flood protection

Is the government heeding warnings about more flooding as a result of climate change?

Twelve months ago southern England was facing drought conditions in the warmest month on record. Now it's trying to cope with the worst flooding in decades after a months' worth of rain fell in a matter of days.

Large swaths of the country are underwater. The floods have left more than a third of a million people without drinking water, up to 50,000 without electricity, and thousands homeless.

As the waters slowly recede, there's now a flood of questions for the authorities.

Could more have been done to prevent the damage? Has the government responded sufficiently to warnings about increased flooding as a result of climate change? What lessons should be learned?

No one can be certain that climate change is to blame, but that's being seen here as the most likely cause.

"There is now evidence, for the first time, that humans are having an influence on large-scale rainfall patterns," says Nathan Gillett, a lecturer at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit.

"I think as far as winter goes we are likely to see more flooding in the future," says Dr. Gillett. "We need to mitigate the effects of climate change and improve flood defenses."

It's a view shared by many. The Environment Agency's chief executive, Lady Young, has warned that it will cost more than $2 billion a year to prevent flooding due to climate change and urged the government to spend more. Her agency predicted that the number of people at high risk from flooding could rise from 1.5 million to 3.5 million.

Many have lined up to condemn the government's lack of readiness. The Conservative leader, David Cameron, said that serious questions need to be asked about Britain's flood defenses.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Menzies Campbell asked why flood barriers hadn't been moved into place in time.

The Environment Secretary Hilary Benn has defended both the government and the Environment Agency's handling of the floods that followed "unprecedented" levels of rainfall. He announced an increase in flood defense spending from $1.2 billion this year to $1.6 billion by 2010 and pledged an extra $20 million to local authorities in the flood-hit areas.

An independent inquiry is expected to look into the lack of flood-control preparation.

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