Monday 16 November 2020

16th November 2020 - Lockdown 2 - Day 12 - "Unexpected" Events

For many people living here in the UK, untoward natural disasters and other emergencies have been something that happens to other people. Most people don't have to cope with more than a few inches of snow for a few days or maybe a fence blown down in a gale. I've seen on the television or heard on the radio how some people cannot cope with a couple of inches of snow on the ground and there is often a  risk averse culture that closes many schools at the first hint of snow. The way in which some radio and newspapers report weather events of the prospect of such events is sensationalised and does seem to make out that stepping outside is far riskier than it actually is. Don't get me wrong, for some sections of society, snow and ice can cause mobility issues, but when I think back to childhood and - despite having some really snowy winter weather at times - my primary school never closed for a snow day despite being up a hill and my secondary school only once, and that was due to the boiler packing up. (I didn't hear the announcement on the radio that morning and actually had walked to school in deep snow to discover it was shut!)

In some parts of the country having to cope with the effects of heavy snow are regular event in winter and you find in those countries that get a lot more snow than we do here in the UK, they are better equipped and organised to deal with it - in fact the morning after we had arrived in Moscow in late March 2014, with snow falling when we landed the previous evening and all night, the roads and pavements had been cleared and all was running normally with transport. We get snow every year in the UK, it should not come as a surprise and I do think that we should be able to cope as a country more easily than we do. 

Flooding is an increasing risk for many people as extreme weather events with large amounts of rainfall happen more frequently. There is a tendency more often nowadays for the "jet stream", that carries Atlantic weather systems across to the UK from the west, to get stuck in a repeating pattern, so rather than an alternating pattern of rain then settled weather, the weather systems keep rolling in off the Atlantic. 

For the south of Englang in particular, extreme hot weather is happening more frequently in summer, temperatures that have been unheard of until the 21st Century have been recorded - it might not sound like much to someone reading this blog in the Persian Gulf or Arizona but 100 degrees Farenheit (37-38 degrees Celsius) is very hard to deal with here in the UK as our buildings are designed to keep heat in rather than keep the inside cool, and most homes and many offices do not have air conditioning. 

Aside from weather, unexpected domestic events can happen. During the seventeen years I ran an IT department, I had to deal with two lightning strikes on the building, a leak in the airconditioning system on the servers, a crane snapping a telephone wire to the building, road workmen drilling through another phone cable and various power failures. I spent a lot of time on emergency planning, and we as a country, both nationally and in our own domestic settings, need to get better at being prepared and resilient against unexpected events. 

However, the Covid-19 pandemic is the first event for some time that has affected the whole country and despite having had reports and committees on preparations for such an event, this Government seems to have been lacking in planning for this, and has not been very successful at all in managing the situation. This has had, as many of you will be aware, a huge cost in lives and in livelihoods. 

Panic buying at the start of the pandemic created artificial shortages of many goods, and it took quite a while for the supply chain to resume a more normal status though some changing demand, particularly in such as flour where demand in catering stopped and demand at home rose, was less expected. Home delivery services were overwhelmed and huge queues built up outside supermarkets as numbers inside were limited. 

As we ourselves had been storing additional food in case of a no deal Brexit for some time, we were protected to some extent from shortages, although such as gluten free bread and cereal (for one of my daughters) was an issue for a little while. We are much dependant on supermarkets than many other people, but even so at one point, the local butchers had very little meat left one afternoon when I went round to get some chicken. 

This brings me to the looming inevitability of the end of the Brexit Transition Period. Many people assume that if there is some kind of deal at the last minute, all will be well, but as the UK is leaving both the Customs Union and the Single Market and a whole host of regulatory frameworks, there will still be a huge amount of disruption to trade. The systems for processing many thousands, if not millions of new customs declarations are not ready, not enough customs agents have been trained to deal with these, infrastructure at ports is not ready and far fewer permits have been given to UK lorry companies than are needed for the volume of trade with the EU. 

Thus, there will be disruption. At the very start of next year, the effect may be slight, due to the New Year holiday and the fact that importers will have been able to schedule deliveries a little bit ahead for just before the end of year. But storage is not infinite and many products, such as some fruit and vegetables, rely on short lead and transit times to bring them to market whilst still fresh. As we move towards February and March, local supplies of such as apples and salad crops will be diminishing, and reliance on imports grows every year at that time, in fact by early Spring this was historically known as the "hungry gap". 

As supplies run short, prices go up. This will hit many consumers hard, many already stretched by unemployment or other hardship caused by the pandemic. Those of us who have perhaps a bit of money to spare should step up and help those without through such as food banks. Community work will be important to ensure no one is left vulnerable.

Ideology does not fill stomachs. Three word slogans do not fill supermarket shelves. Not just here in the UK, but in many countries it has been the case time and time again that sections of the population have been persuaded to support leaders who then go onto enact policies that cause harm, whether it is to the environment as in Brazil presently, or persecution of minorities, failure to safeguard the vulnerable or keeping people poor through systemic inequalities. Somehow or other we need to ensure that facts rather than distortions, complicated but right arguments rather than simple but wrong ones win through and also that we build a society that looks after each other and in which everyone is supported and fed. 

In my Small Steps blogs below, among other things I look at resiliency and preparedness

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