Pulling together in York… but don’t blame foreign aid

EVERYONE in York must know someone who has been flooded. We have old friends who live in Huntington Road where many houses have been inundated.

This part of York was hit by the decision to lift the Foss flood barrier after the pumping station was itself in danger of flooding. According to reports, the decision was taken to lift the barrier, sacrificing some homes in order to preserve others. Huntington Road flooded in 2000, although not to the present extent.

While sterling work from the Army, fire brigade and others helps ease the crisis, sandbags and community spirit are only part of the answer.

People pulling together is one natural response to a crisis. Another is to find someone to blame. The Daily Mail newspaper has built its reputation on spraying blame about, and to that end has been reporting that millions are sent in aid to the world’s most corrupt nations while Britons face misery after their towns and cities are swamped by flooding.

A Mail reporter managed to find people in York who were upset by money being spent on foreign aid rather than flooding. The problem here is that a nonsensical link is being made. Homes in York have not flooded because money is spent on foreign aid; they have flooded because Britain has failed to learn how to deal with increasingly wet winters – sometimes violently wet winters.

Making this link in this manner gives the impression that foreign aid is to blame. Maybe some foreign aid could be better spent elsewhere, but linking foreign aid and flooding in York is simply scurrilous.

You could as easily say that planning to spend untold billions on renewing Trident nuclear submarines while we can’t even keep water out of our homes is utter madness. Do we really want to blow a reported £10 billion on what amounts to a dodgy insurance policy?

David Cameron may be dropping in on York later today, wellies and bland generalities to hand. He was on the news last night saying we are there at your time of need, or some such pious claptrap.

York doesn’t need the prime minister now – it needs him to come up with flood policies that work, rather than spouting on about how the rain we now have is “unprecedented”. The thing is, such torrential downpours are no longer unprecedented as they keep occurring.

Social media played an enormous role in keeping people informed in York yesterday. I went for a run first thing and saw the waters flooding down Skeldergate and saw the River Ouse seemingly wider, deeper and faster at that point than ever before.

After that I followed the story on Facebook, sometimes looking at the photographs and short videos people were uploading from their smart phones; and sometimes dipping into official media streams.

Facebook turns out to be a good medium for keeping track of what is happening locally at such a time. Sometimes with social media the wrong end of the stick is grasped and flourished in a way a more responsible media outlet would fight shy of doing – often because what is being ‘reported’ turned out to be factually wrong.

But as a means of allowing, to use the dread phrase, citizen journalists to record a breaking story where the facts are plain to see, Facebook turned out to be useful and illuminating.

As, too, were more official sites, with fantastic offerings from established photographers too (in a city where the daily newspaper has laid off all but one of its photographers). But yesterday was a first for this dedicated follower of the news: apart from a quick dip into the BBC news, everything came to me from my smart phone, often live and as it happened.

Including this much-mentioned Tweet from Radio Scarborough: “It’s being reported that David Cameron will visit York tomorrow so it looks like the misery continues…”

Perhaps when the prime minister arrives today he could bring some proper answers rather than soggy platitudes and damp excuses.


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