00:00 Saturday 27 November 2010  Written by Carol Gilbert

Flood Forum held in Skibbereen

DR Martin Mansergh TD, Minister of State for Finance with special responsibility for the OPW, speaking at the inaugural Irish National Flood Forum, held in Skibbereen last Saturday, committed to a full flood scheme for Skibbereen, saying: 'As in the case of Bandon we are working towards a full flood scheme for Skibbereen.'

Whilst the announcement was very welcome, such a scheme is unlikely to be completed in the short term or until the completion of a flood management planning programme which will be completed by December, 2015 in its first cycle. In regard to interim works, the Minister confirmed he was very confident that he would have some news on a limited financial scale to mitigate the risk between now and the completion of the works - that is, if these works did not impact on the planned overall flood scheme.

Last Saturday's forum, as an initiative, was timely and received good support from other regions around the country affected by flooding. Skibbereen Flood Committee had invited an informed and notable list of speakers including Sean Kelly, MEP, Dr Eamonn McKeogh, lecturer UCC, Dr Julianne MacLeod, medical expert from the College of Psychiatry, Ireland, Dr Mark Adamson, Asst Chief Engineer, OPW, and Sean Kelleher, Product Manager, FBD Insurance.

Experts, figures and graphs were an important part of the day and, indeed, will be the means by which flooding will be wiped out in the future, but the poignancy when people spoke of the personal impact of 'losing everything,' seeing 'precious mementoes washed away in flood waters' is the real human story of the affects of flooding.

Dr MacLeod, whose talk touched a chord with the audience, spoke of the normal response to trauma and tragedy and how such trauma affected people in the short and longer term. The initial impact was dependant on such factors as whether you were an observer, helper or victim and whether one was alone, one's life was in danger or whether one had other responsibilities, including children or suffered from a disability.

Helpless

The initial response included feeling helpless and hopeless and being unable to address simple decisions even around basic needs. The possible long term effects would be influenced by individual experiences, the likelihood of future flooding and could include anxiety, depression and sleep disorder which could lead to post traumatic stress.

Dr MacLeod stressed that what was being identified was perfectly normal responses to abnormal experiences. Dr MacLeod said she always admired people's resilience to deal with these events and the response of those who helped with kindness which brought out the best in people.

Forum chairman, Mr Seán McCarthy, Hyperion Ltd, reviewed last Saturday's event as addressing an urgent problem with an attendance which underlined the importance of the subject. He said the problem of flooding was identified as being due to a combination of factors including change in weather patterns and neglect. The impact on local communities and individuals is both economic and human and engendered a lack of sense of security which could be felt in communities, years after the flooding event.

The main message from the forum was that the problem could be fixed through prevention, protection and being prepared. Dr Mansergh emphasised that whatever solution was proposed, it would have to be flexible to allow for future changes due to climate change.

To be holistic

Dr. Eamonn McKeogh (UCC) stressed the solution would have to be holistic - it would have to take into account all aspects of the catchment area. Partial remedies would not be a long term solution.

As regards insurance cover for regions in or near flood plains, Mr Sean Kelleher, FBD, advised this was an instance where customers may be better served by calling into a local office to speak to someone with local knowledge.

To solve the problem, there was no 'overall master plan' for each community in Ireland as each case has different catchment areas, different physical locations and different settings and the solution would comprise a mixture of expert theory and local knowledge. However, solving flooding problems was also an opportunity for Ireland to excel and become experts in this field.

Honorary secretary of Skibbereen Floods Committee, Mr Cathal O'Donovan said: 'We were very happy with the day with great support from people from Newcastlewest, Galway, Bandon, Tipperary and other regions of Ireland.'

It is proposed that a forum, similar to the Skibbereen forum, should be held on an annual basis to act as a means of updating communities on new developments and to continue to highlight the urgency of the problem. It was critical that flooding issues are maintained as a high priority issue and it is also important that communities work together to provide a co-ordinated set of actions.

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