Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Lessons for our local policy makers.

The waters after last Thursday's storm recede. But the land is still waterlogged. More storms are on the way. July's the wettest month. November sees local government elections in Poland.

So then - lessons for our local policy makers.

Be more careful when granting building permits. At present, the system is entirely haphazard. Either you wait in limbo, with some urzędnik (untranslatable word - surely not 'Civil Servant'?) deciding not to decide and telling you your application was made in the wrong font, or that some spurious attachment is missing - or else planning permission is given all too readily without the necessary due diligence being carried out.

Part of that due dilligence must be 'what happens if there's a flood of the century/flood of the millennium?" Building on inadequately protected flood plains must cease.

In our case, in Jeziorki, located on table-top flat land like central Mazowsze, the issue is "where will water go if there is 20 litres of rainfall per square metre in the space of two hours?"

Are the drainage ditches clear, or has some anti-social neighbour, through whose land they run, blocked them up? Are there enough drainage ditches to conduct the rain from the fields to the lowest lying land in a given neighbourhood? And should houses be allowed to be built in that lowest lying land?

And should houses in low-lying areas be allowed to build underground garages and cellars? And should not insurers and their actuaries better assess the risk and build it into premiums, which would clearly communicate that risk to householders?

Is there an emergency plan prepared, lying in City Hall, ready to be put into action should there be a repeat of these floods? What is the division of roles between the fire service, urban waterworks company (Miejskie Przedsiębiorstwo Wodociągów i Kanalizacji - lit. the Urban Enterprise of Waterpullings and Canalisation), the military and the police?

Among all the human misery witnessed these last few wet weeks, perhaps the most preventable has been in the Wrocław district of Kozanów, hit hard in the floods of 1997. The worst affected areas of Kozanów consisted of housing built... after 1997.

One of those missing word issues that Polish has is that the word for 'policy' and 'politics' is one and the same - polityka. Reading many Polish political blogs, I can see that this leads to the former being ignored in favour of the latter. Rather than solving problems with policy (flood prevention, waste water treatment, transport infrastructure provision, healthcare, primary, secondary and tertiary education, reforming the pension system, the tax system, etc. etc. etc., Poles worry endlessly about politics. Who gets to decide all the above is key (policy). What they intend to do (policy) is irrelevant. That's all spin. It's getting hold of power, and hanging onto power that matters. Policy tends to go by the board, as people who admit to not knowing much about economics get terribly worked up about the appointment of the president of the National Bank of Poland. For political, not policy, reasons.

I blame Tusk for not stopping the rain and health minister Ewa Kopacz for failing to ensure that every Pole lives to 110.


adthelad said...

odd - I always thought of an urzędnik as and official. Checked both urząd and urzędnik in http://translator.telewizor.eu/ and got the same - office and official. Then it's just a case of the thesaurus for variaties of the same.
I wonder how much of Poland would be flooded given its topography and the ammount of rain you suggest?

Anonymous said...

We can’t solve all the world problems all at once. Look what BP did with the oil spill. But I too would blame Tusk, what the heck. But living till 110? Would you still write blogs at 100, Michael? There are so many problems in Poland and not enough time or resources and lack of major funds to deal with them all. Yet there are so many educated people there. The infrastructure is the first priority and it would surely employ thousands. I feel the urban planners are responsible for zoning the land properly, not poor administrators. But don’t worry, the EU (read Germany) will once again give Poland millions or maybe billions to rebuild and many will argue how the free money should be spent properly. The GDP will rise and the government will be happy. What you guys need to do is organize and lobby the government. Or instead of writing about it, act, run for a government post and make the difference. Wish you luck!

Michael Dembinski said...

'Official' - the word is neutral; carrying with it none of the loathing, mistrust and negative stereotypes of urzędnik.

student SGH said...

I unfortunately can't come up with a good translation of urzędas - once again they don't need such a word in English, there the workings of state administration is simply better.

In NI people get more and more frustrated. Some time ago Gmina Lesznowola declared it would modernise drainage ditches along ul. Krasickiego (main street in the village). Unsurprisingly, they went back on their promise and many houses were flooded. The other story is that we have some undulations around, there are always places located lower where the water after a big rainfall will flow.

Funnily enough when my father saw our house he aptly noticed it was built on a hill. Indeed in case of any downpour it's a blessing. But we have a garage in the basement, so some water from our drive may trickle and flood the garage. But we found a fix for it, we just got the permission to pipe the rainwater from the drive out to household sewage drains. After a big downpour not a single drop of water in the basement. The level of underground waters is still high but on the ground level it's already dried up.

Interesting how few people realise all dangers when they decide to build a house in a certain place...

And the recent happenings prove the planning permissions need to be somehow regulated...

Jeannie said...

Why end with the last paragraph on a passive, comedic note? It's a serious problem and the summary should have slammed the issue right on the nailhead with everything you were leading up to previously. Well done for speaking up, though. It needed to be said. I hope you get some action.

Marcin said...

There're some more better proposals, that every liberal Gazeta Wyborcza-reader and every TVN-watcher might agree with.

First, if one plans to build a residence or a house on the flood terrain and apply for a building permit, than such a person undersign a statement about resignation from all of the public (be it the State or a communal) aid in a case of being flooded by a flood wave.

And second, being a logic consequence of above, such a person must possess an obligatory private insurance policy against such cases as being flooded. Obviously such a policy should differ from those of real estates group in a way of a level of premium paid by the insurant and an integral franchise offered by the insurer. Certainly, in such a case a premium should be substantialy higher than a marketable average and also frenchise level should be to the most minimal. There's also an aspect of morgage credits, that surely regarding it a building on a flood terrains should require substantialy higher credit rates.

Why all of above? Because, people's risky fantasies shouldn't be cheap and costless.

And finaly. I'm a former ministerial clerck (sayin' a memeber of the Civil Service corps). And I can only say, that every man and every women of the local governments are indisputable Civil Servicemen/Servicewomen. I cannot argue that other cultures are sufficiently enough to show them as pattern-likable and not being biased by the chauvinistic stereotypes. Being it Deutch "urzędoł", French "urzędoł", British "urzędoł", American "urzędoł", ... whateva. How that's a wonder that some of pure cosmo attitudes create and lead to some of pure nonsense findings. Worth of blaimin'.

Anonymous said...

Building on flood plains is illegal in many countries and it should be the case in Poland as well. The banks would never recover mortgaged money, even with higher interest. Insurance companies won’t provide the coverage for flood plains households in other countries and it should be the same in Poland. How about saving these poor souls when drowning and sending them to hospitals to save their lives? Who should foot the bill for that? The taxpayers? Should EU pay for their misery? Make it illegal to build on flood plains and fine the people who choose to build there.

Michael Dembinski said...

Marcin - when I compare my futile attempts to find out my pensions rights for the ZUS I've paid here to the simple, polite, quick way in which the UK's National Insurance dealt with my phone enquiry, I must say there's a huge chasm.

Things are better here (especially at local level) than they were. My wife says that sorting out number plates for her new Yaris was far easier than the process for the old one five years ago.

But still, can you imagine Polish urzędnicy signing off letters to tax-payers with the words "Your Obedient Servant" as they did in the UK until not too long ago?

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael - Bob here (5 days without power here, finally restored Monday - quite a challenge)

All of what you say is right. The Wroclaw example is a perfect one - post 1997 - what a travesty.

I don't see any change at all nor do I foresee any! Unfortunately.