Natural disasters: : London Health

Thankfully, we are not prone to natural disasters in the UK and suffer a lot less than other countries; however, occasionally disasters do happen; examples of these are outlined below:

Floods

Flooding in the UK

Floods are the most common form of natural disaster in the UK and are now part and parcel of the British winter months; widespread flooding happens at least once a year in the UK. Earlier this year, torrents of rain hit the UK, with Cumbria the worst-affected area; heavy, prolonged rainfall caused bridges and road networks to collapse and four people lost their lives. In 2007, Yorkshire was hit hard by floods and some people are still recovering from the destruction caused by the floods three years later; the floods killed six people and left hundreds of people homeless and thousands without electricity.

What causes flooding?

The increased incidence of flooding in the UK and in other parts of the world is largely attributed to climate change, which has been accelerated by global warming as a result of the way we live our lives; this is the opinion of many experts but it is not a certainty and scientific research in this area is ongoing. At present, over two million homes and 185,000 businesses are at risk of flooding, based on their geographical location; this amounts to around 200 billion pounds worth of assets and land.

Effects of flooding

Aside from the obvious threats of people drowning, flooding can also cause millions of pounds worth of damage in a very short space of time. Flash flooding, which develops very quickly and can be extremely destructive, involves hugely powerful waves of water, which destroy buildings, swallow up cars and people, damage buildings and houses and destroy transport networks. Localised flooding can also have national consequences, as transport networks are destroyed and public services cancelled or severely delayed. Many people can be left homeless following floods and it can take several months or even years for them to sort out insurance claims and start rebuilding their lives. In terms of money, flooding costs a huge amount of money; not only does the Government have to pay to rebuild the areas affected by the floods but they must also cater for the people that have been affected by the flooding; this involves finding them shelter and ensuring they have access to food and water and basic services.

Preventing floods

It is almost impossible to prevent flash flooding but we are fortunate enough to have the technology which can alert people to the threat of flooding; early weather warning systems allow experts to detect heavy rainfall and then the Met Office can issue weather warnings which can help people to prepare for the floods. In this country, most homes are built on strong foundations using durable materials; this makes them more resistant to damage from natural disasters. Some areas of the country are more at risk of flooding than others; houses located on the flood plains or rivers, coastal communities and those located on low ground are all prone to flooding, while those built on higher land far from flood plains have a very low risk of flooding. One option to prevent flooding is installing flood barriers or defences; however, these are very expensive and would have to be considered and researched very carefully before a decision is made.

Fires

Fire is a constant threat in the home as well as the environment. Fires can spread quickly and envelop homes in a matter of minutes, leaving a trail of destruction.

Causes of fires

Environmental fires are usually started as a result of small agricultural fires that get out of hand, arson, campfires and as a result of lightning. Fires in the home are usually caused by cigarettes, cooking incidents, open fires and deep fat fryers.

Effects of fires

Fires can cause very damaging effects; they can ruin homes in a matter of minutes, damage possessions and harm people; many people die each year from being caught in house fires. Fire also produces harmful gases, which can cause breathing difficulties. Environmental fires cause millions of pounds worth of damage to farmland, forests and transport networks; forest fires can spread very quickly and may destroy homes; many people may also lose their lives as a result of environmental fires.

Fires can be particularly dangerous when chemicals are involved; for example, when a tanker catches light or a building containing explosive or corrosive chemicals catches fire; the gases that are produced as a result of the fires are particularly harmful and the intensity of the fire will often be extreme in these situations; this means it is much harder for fire services to contain and control the fire and it can make the environment they have to work in extremely dangerous.

Preventing fires

Many fires could be prevented if people were a little more responsible around the home; take care when cooking, make sure cigarettes are fully stubbed out and ensure smoke alarms are tested on a regular basis (the fire brigade offers this service free of charge).

Environmental fires can be prevented by ensuring people that deal with harmful chemicals have the necessary training and expertise to deal with these substances. Fires in open environments spread very quickly so it is important that the fire is dealt with as quickly as possible. Fires that are started on farmland and bonfires should be controlled carefully; if the fire gets out of hand it could spread quickly, especially if the land is dry.

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Preparing for disasters