British Prime Minister David Cameron cancelled a planned trip to the Middle East and said his government would spend "whatever money was needed" to deal with widespread flooding that has left some homes under water for weeks.
“Money is no object in this relief effort, whatever money was needed for it will be spent,” he told a news conference in London, after spending 24 hours visiting flood-hit areas in southwest England, where major rail links have been destroyed.
England’s wettest January since 1766 has left Cameron battling to defend his government’s response in the face of criticism that it did not do enough to prevent the flooding in the first place and then was too slow in its response to help those affected.
Britain’s two-party coalition government has faced increasing pressure over the situation, with critics saying the problem has been exacerbated by years of underinvestment in river dredging and flood defences.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron announces flood relief
On a visit to flooded Wraysbury near London on Tuesday, Defence Minister Philip Hammond was berated by a local resident who said the authorities were not doing enough to help those affected.
Hundreds of homes along the banks of the River Thames west of London have been evacuated. With water levels still rising and more rain forecast for the rest of the week, Cameron warned things may get worse before they get better.
In the badly affected Somerset Levels area in southwest England, more than 65 million cubic metres of flood water is being pumped out at a rate of 3 million cubic metres a day. The Met Office said 16 severe flood warnings, indicating a danger to life, remain in place across the south of England.
Cameron – who is now personally taking control of the crisis after an escalating and very public blame game between government ministers and the Environment Agency – has rejected calls from some quarters to divert money from Britain’s foreign aid budget to help the domestic victims of flooding.
“We don’t have to make that choice. We are a wealthy country with a growing economy, with public finances that are increasingly coming under control,” he said.
“We will spend the correct money here at home and we will do that without interfering with our aid budget.”
Cameron said the military – which has already been brought in to help build flood defences and evacuate homes – could play an increased role and said thousands more soldiers were on standby to be drafted in as needed.
“My focus is on the operational response helping those people who need help and protecting those properties which need protecting. It will be a long haul,” he said.
Cameron said he had no choice but to postpone a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories scheduled for next week, apologising to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for the cancellation but saying that the flooding at home took precedence.
“I’m sending my apologies today to Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, but nothing is more important than dealing with these floods,” he said.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-02-12