The floodwaters that recently inundated many areas of Southern Norway have since receded, only to be replaced with a new flood of criticism against government officials. Last week’s state budget proposal contains a major reduction in funding for flood- and landslide prevention, just weeks after those responsible stressed the importance of such preventative measures.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported on Monday how Oil & Energy Minister Terje Søviknes “looked flood victims in the eye” and declared how “dramatic” it was to see the damage caused by flooding in and around Kristiansand. Søviknes, of the Progress Party, and fellow government minister Jan Tore Sanner of the Conservatives were on an inspection tour of the area in early October, just after torrential rains sent local rivers out of control, flooding communities and destroying homes, businesses and agricultural property. The damage was the worst ever in Southern Norway, with experts putting it on par with the historically devastating floods along the Glomma River in Eastern Norway in 1995.
Søviknes and Sanner met and spoke with people who’d suffered enormous losses, telling them how the flood was a powerful reminder that they all needed to work even harder on preventative measures to secure them against such losses from floods and landslides.
At the same time, their government’s proposed state budget for 2018 was already being printed, with NRK reporting that “Søviknes knew well” that he and the government were cutting more than 40 percent of the state’s funding for such preventative measures. Søviknes had to admit live on national radio Monday morning that there actually “will be somewhat less” in funding for 2018 “than we had in 2016 and 2017.”
Created ‘false hopes’
Leaders of the opposition Center Party, which champions the interests of local communities and farmers, were furious. “They gave folks false hopes when they said they should be investing (in flood prevention) at the same time they were cutting the budget,” fumed Center Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum to NRK. “No government or government ministers should behave like that.”
Søviknes insisted, however, that the government continues to work “with very many flood- and landslide-prevention projects. We still have NOK 254 million (allotted for such projects), which is an historically high level (of funding).”
Søviknes claimed that the current conservative government has doubled budget allocations compared to what the former left-center government (of which Vedum was a member) budgeted. “Now there’s a decline from this year to next year, and that’s because we have removed funding tied to efforts to create jobs to offset those lost in the oil price fall of 2014. Then we’re back to a bit more normal level.”
In their own declaration dated October 5, 2017, the government claimed that it was taking the security of residents in flood-prone areas very seriously. “Norway is a long, narrow country with lots of (bad) weather and more than 4,000 waterways,” the government wrote. “That means that we always have been vulnerable to floods and slides … we can never fund our way out of all risk of damage, but we must nonetheless allocate funding to that the most important areas can be secured.” The government even boasted that a total of NOK 385 million was allocated to state waterways and energy directorate NVE this year, and that “around NOK 1.5 billion” had been allocated during the government’s term that began in 2013.
There was no mention that the NOK 385 million had been cut back to what Søviknes claimed was the NOK 254 million available next year. His ministry continues to be responsible for NVE, which in turn is responsible for flood and slide danger.
Sanner’s ministry in charge of local governments shares responsibility for building authorities, while the justice ministry is responsible for preparedness and the climate and environmental ministry is responsible for how Norway must adapt to a changing climate. And then comes a warning in the government declaration:
“The fundamental responsibility for protecting life and property lies with the individual,” it stated, while adding that it was important for local communities to play an active role in charting risk and vulnerability to floods.
Criticism has also been directed at state meteorologists who allegedly did not issue strong enough warnings of extreme weather before the rains set off so much devastation in early October. Local officials have responded that they nonetheless were in a high state of preparedness, but that it was impossible to foresee just how extreme the weather and subsequent flooding would be. Climate experts claim more such storms will come, along with more major floods.