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May 18 2012

Flash floods are on the rise, while the budget to tackle them sinks | Bob Ward

The Environment Agency has warned the UK to expect more floods but its advice seems to be falling on deaf ears

A moving new exhibition of photographs at Somerset House shows the human impact of flooding around the world over the past five years and provides an insight into how climate change may already be disrupting lives and livelihoods.

The images from major flooding events in the UK, Pakistan, Australia and Thailand feature victims and survivors as they cope with the inundation of their homes and the aftermath. The photographer, Gideon Mendel, says his intention is "to depict them as individuals, not as nameless statistics". He adds: "Coming from disparate parts of the world, their faces show us their linked vulnerability despite the vast differences in their lives and circumstances."

One of the most striking exhibits shows Margaret Clegg standing knee-deep in water in the living room of her house in Toll Bar, Doncaster, which was flooded when the River Don overtopped its banks in June 2007, following a record downpour.

It is not clear to what extent, if any, climate change contributed to the occurrence or intensity of the summer 2007 floods in England and Northern Ireland, which cost the UK economy more than £3bn. A single extreme weather event cannot be definitely attributed to climate change, the influence of which can only be detected and measured through the analysis of statistical trends looking back over many decades. That means we will not be certain for many years to come about how flood risk is being affected.

We know from basic physics that a warmer atmosphere can become more humid and holds more water vapour, theoretically increasing by about 7% for every extra centigrade degree. As a result climate change is expected to increase the intensity of the water cycle in many parts of the world, causing both more droughts and more floods.

An analysis of UK weather trends between 1961 and 2006, during which the average temperature increased by about one centigrade degree, indicated that although our winters have not become significantly wetter, the number and severity of heavy rainfall events has increased. Meanwhile, summers have become drier and heavy summer downpours have decreased in all parts of the UK, except in north-east England, where some of the 2007 flooding occurred, and north Scotland.

Climate change is expected to increase the risk of flooding in many parts of the UK. Projections published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in 2009 suggested that, under a "medium emissions scenario", overall winter precipitation should be higher in the 2080s, while summer rainfall should generally be lower, particularly in the south.

The UK climate change risk assessment, published by Defra earlier this year, calculated that these potential trends mean the annual damage from coastal and river flooding in England and Wales could increase from about £1.2bn today to as much as £12bn in the worst case scenario over the next 80 years.

Such an increase in the risk of damage would have major consequences, not least in terms of the affordability and availability of flood insurance for homes and businesses. Indeed, a crisis is already approaching, with insurers warning that from next year they may not continue to offer cover for 200,000 high-risk properties, exposed to a greater than 1 in 75 annual risk of flooding.

Under an arrangement dating from 2000, insurance companies have subsidised flood cover for those in high-risk properties in return for greater government investment in coastal and river defences.

At present, the Environment Agency is responsible for building and maintaining these defences. The agency has told the government it needs to increase its annual flood risk management budget by 9% by 2014-15. However, the House of Commons public accounts committee has highlighted government plans to reduce the agency's flood risk funding by 10% over this period, and to shift more responsibility on to local authorities, even though their overall budgets are shrinking.

Perhaps even more worrying is the neglect of the risk of flash flooding, caused by heavy downpours from often very localised storms that can inundate poorly drained areas, particularly in cities. Of the six million properties in the UK that are currently exposed to some degree of flood risk, four million are threatened by surface water flooding.

Yet when the climate change risk assessment, upon which the government is basing its national adaptation plan, was published earlier this year, scientists warned that it was flawed because it had neglected possible future changes in flash flooding and other important threats.

The assessment stated: "Whilst the number of properties at risk from surface water flooding is similar to the number at risk from tidal and river flooding, suitable information for analysis were not available at the time of writing this report."

In his official review of the assessment, Prof Martin Parry of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College expressed "concern that the risks identified do not necessarily represent the full range of potential risks, and the metrics were selected not on the basis of importance but on the availability of evidence". However, Defra ignored his advice, surprisingly admitting that "the risks provided in this report are not intended to be a full range of risks".

This lack of attention to flash flooding could make it much more difficult to implement an important part of the government's national planning policy framework, which states that local plans "should apply a sequential, risk-based approach to the location of development to avoid where possible flood risk to people and property and manage any residual risk, taking account of the impacts of climate change".

The likely increase in the risk of flooding is just one of the many ways in which unmitigated climate change will significantly affect homes and businesses, and will create larger societal and economic costs for the UK. These serious long-term impacts are often overlooked by those who complain about the cost of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases to limit the future impacts of climate change, yet they are just as important.

• Bob Ward is policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science. The Drowning World exhibition is showing at Somerset House until 5 June.


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July 05 2011

George Bernard Shaw photographs uncover man behind myth

Exhibitions showcasing original prints reveal the private and public personas of the Pygmalion playwright

George Bernard Shaw will be exposed, stripped bare as never before, when the contents of cupboards and drawers, albums and boxes crammed into his last home go on display for the first time – the thousands of photographs that were the Nobel laureate's other great passion in life.

An exhibition of original prints will open at the National Trust's Fox Talbot Museum in Lacock, Wiltshire, on Thursday, while the guardian of Shaw's photographic archive, the London School of Economics, has mounted an online exhibition as well. Both have astonishing images, including several of Shaw naked, apart from his whiskers.

From 10,000 images, mostly printed by Shaw, Roger Watson, curator of the Lacock exhibition, has chosen a startling self-portrait of the playwright lying on a sofa, lit by a single overhead lamp, naked apart from a strategically placed book. Shaw's long, skinny body could be a medieval tomb carving, apart from the hints in the shadows of a 20th-century background.

"It really is a very striking and unusual image," Watson said. "A more conventional photographer would have cropped the lamp out of the print, but to me that makes the picture. "

Karyn Stuckey, the curator at the LSE who has been cataloguing the vast collection and created the online exhibition, was taken aback when she discovered the image of a naked Shaw bending over to set his camera, reflected in a mirror. "I was ploughing through hundreds of slightly dull prints, and expecting something entirely different to come up next, and I suddenly went 'Whoa, what's that?'"

Shaw, who took up photography in 1898, frequently photographed himself nude, and also posed on a beach as Rodin's Thinker for the actor Harley Granville Barker, but admitted "I merely looked constipated".

Both exhibitions are full of biographical hints for the curious. There are relatively few photographs of men, but many of beautiful and sensuously photographed – if fully clothed – women friends. They include the actor Lillah McCarthy and the even more ravishing Beatrice Webb, co-founder of the LSE with the Shaws and her husband and fellow Fabian, Sidney Webb. His most famous leading lady, Mrs Patrick Campbell, was captured lying in bed. He wrote to her: "I want the lighter of my seven lamps of beauty, honour, laughter, music, love, life and immortality", but the relationship smouldered almost entirely on paper.

There are many photographs of his wife, Charlotte. Long before his writing made him rich, Shaw's money problems were solved by marrying the Irish heiress in 1898. One frank portrait shows her looking trustingly straight to camera: on the back he captioned it "nee Charlotte Payne-Townshend Mrs Bernard Shaw" – then crossed that out and wrote "The green-eyed millionairess".

By the time Shaw died at Ayot St Lawrence in Hertfordshire in 1950, aged 94 – after falling out of an apple tree he was trying to prune – he had accumulated 10,000 prints and more than 10,000 negatives.

The house and contents were left to the National Trust. In 1979 the photographs, still uncatalogued and many on mouldering and potentially dangerous old film, were transferred to the archives of the London School of Economics for safe storage. In a marathon joint LSE and National Trust project all have been conserved, digitised – almost crashing the LSE website – and catalogued over the past two years.

Shaw was typically writing thundering reviews of photographic exhibitions long before he started photograpy. Stuckey and Watson agree that the best were taken with Shaw's earliest cameras, when he was experimenting with lighting and early colour printing, and creating strikingly composed shots that demanded careful planning and minutes of immobility from his subjects, rather than the snapshots he produced when he bought a Leica and began using 35mm film in the 1930s.

A handful of his photographs were reproduced or exhibited in his lifetime, but thousands had never been seen by anyone since Shaw last looked at them.

"He's not perhaps a first-rank photographer, but he's very high in the second rank, at least in his early days," Watson said. "If somebody brought these in and said they were their grandfather's and asked if we would exhibit them, the truthful answer would probably be no. I'd say they'd be lovely to have, lovely to go through the albums, but I'm not sure how many outsiders would come to see them. But as the work of Shaw, they're a different story entirely. I think people will be fascinated."

George Bernard Shaw: Man & Cameraman, will be showing at the Fox Talbot museum, Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire, from 7 July to 11 December 2011


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May 16 2011

Saif Gaddafi: dictator's son who mingled with British high society

Libyan leader's second son, named as a war crimes suspect, built a network of powerful contacts in London

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, named as a war crimes suspect by the chief prosecutor at The Hague on Monday, was a magnetic presence for British politicians, bankers and business people who wanted to deal with oil-rich Libya but not with the international pariah his father had become.

He built powerful establishment links from university education and politics to high finance, architecture and publishing. The billionaire hedge fund investor Nat Rothschild, the Labour peer Lord Mandelson, and the architect Lord Foster were among his contacts, while Oxford University Press was going to publish his book, Manifesto, which called for civil society and participatory democracy in Libya. In it, Saif wrote: "I believe it is the duty of the people to rebel against tyranny." OUP cancelled publication in February "because of recent events in Libya".

To some who knew him in London he seemed more like an international playboy than the powerful son and likely heir to one of Africa's longest-standing dictatorships. Two years ago he moved into a £10m house complete with a suede-lined indoor cinema not far from an area of north London known as Billionaire's Row.

He would dine at China Tang, Sir David Tang's restaurant at the Dorchester hotel, and mix in a jet-set world of dinner at the Cipriani and drinks at Annabel's, according to Luca del Bono, an Anglo-Italian businessman who had dealings with Saif on plans, which never bore fruit, to take Italian fashion brands to Libya.

"He used to be quite social in London," Del Bono said. "If you went to the clubs he would be there. Last time I saw him he said he had just been to Downing Street. He was obviously connected."

The London School of Economics accepted a £1.5m donation from the Gaddafi international charity and development foundation chaired by Saif, of which the LSE said it had received £300,000.

The LSE, where Saif studied for a PhD gained in 2008 from the university's centre for the study of global governance, also agreed a £2.2m contract with the regime to train Libyan civil servants and professionals, of which £1.5m has been received. Lord Woolf, the former lord chief justice, is now investigating the deals, as well as the award from Gaddafi's charity of £22,857 to cover costs for academic speakers to travel to Libya. Prof David Held, an academic adviser to Saif at the LSE, was invited to join the board of the foundation but he later stepped down over concerns about a potential conflict of interest.

Anthony Giddens, a Labour peer and former director of the LSE, twice met Muammar Gaddafi on trips in 2006 and 2007 organised by Monitor Group, a US lobbying firm.

"The political class in this country have courted him," said Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski, chairman of the parliamentary all-party group on Libya. "Lord Mandelson and others have seen him as the main interlocutor with the Libyan regime. Saif has branded himself as the caring face of the Libyan regime and they have added to that branding.

"That was inaccurate and, as events have shown, the man was as gung ho as his father when it comes to suppressing the Libyan people. A lot of people who have supported him and interacted with him will have to explain themselves."

Rothschild is said to have been invited to Saif's 37th birthday party in Montenegro, and Saif has been to the Rothschild family villa in Corfu, once meeting Mandelson there while he was in government as business secretary.

"He has a close relationship with Nat Rothschild," said a Libyan source in London familiar with Saif, who asked not to be named. "I know about a dinner in early 2010 that was organised in New York in Saif's honour where Rothschild was one of the principal organisers.

"There must have been a dozen to 20 mainly American-Jewish business families. Saif spent the evening talking about what his father will and won't allow in Libya, the business opportunities in Libya and how they wanted to encourage influential business people to be involved."

A spokesman for Rothschild said there was no business relationship between the two men and said they knew each other socially.

The Libyan source said that one reason why Saif had so carefully cultivated his contacts in the UK was because he had persuaded his father to adopt a strategy for Libya that involved manufacturing the impression of a difference of opinion between them. Saif would be seen by the outside world as a reformer and his father could be seen to be taking a ceremonial role. "The truth is they were never intending to develop the country," the source said. "They were only interested in maintaining power, and the plan was to keep people poor."

Saif commissioned Foster to oversee the development of the Green Mountain area of Libya, in the north-east of the country. He also invited Robert Adam, one of Prince Charles's favourite architects, to attend the launch in 2007.

"This was supposed to be their entry into Mediterranean tourism, and they were buying global PR," Adam said. "They laid on a dinner, a tented hotel, flights in private jets, the works. I was paid for by the Libyan state. I knew this wasn't the nicest government but I didn't do any work for them. I turned up and looked at it rather cynically."

Foster spoke alongside Gaddafi and talked about the area's enormous promise. "This is one of the most beautiful and little-known landscapes on earth," he said. "We've been given a unique challenge: to establish a sustainable blueprint for future development which will be sensitive to the history of the Green Mountain and to its conservation."

Saif said: "We share a determination to build for our children a future full of opportunity and fulfilment and a dedication to the protection of their heritage."

Foster was also asked to draw up a masterplan for part of Tripoli. A spokeswoman for Lord Foster said "We are not going to comment."

Saif also hired British PR advisers. The firm Brown Lloyd James was retained to handle the management of Saif's reputation.

Peter Brown, one of the company's founding partners, is a friend of Mandelson. He was unavailable for comment.

"BLJ New York did provide some PR services to Libya but have not done so since 2009," said Oliver Lloyd, executive vice-president of BLJ in London. "The UK office has never had a contract with the Libyans or received any payments from the Libyan government or either Muammar or Saif Gaddafi."

Judges to decide

The international criminal court's chief prosecutor has asked a panel of ICC judges to approve his request for arrest warrants against Muammar Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and his brother-in-law, Abdullah Senussi.

That panel will consider the application and can accept it, reject it, or ask for more evidence, a process that could take weeks or months.

If the arrest warrants are approved, there is no guarantee they will be enforced. The ICC has no police force of its own.

It has the option of asking the UN security council to empower others to carry out the arrests, but the prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, made it clear he would not be seeking the help of outsiders like Nato. Instead, he said it would be up to Libya  to hand over the suspects.

"My office has not requested the intervention of international forces to implement the arrest warrants. Should the court issue them and the three individuals remain in Libya, Libyan authorities have the primary responsibility to arrest them," he said.

A second batch of indictments is expected in September. Moreno-Ocampo indicated that this time allegations of mass rape will be looked into, as will attacks against immigrants by the Gaddafi regime's opponents.

Julian Borger


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