In the south of England today we’ve woken up after, or maybe during, the most intense thunderstorm of the year with torrential rain and hail. Despite knowing we cannot live without it, we rarely welcome rainfall. In our culture, located on the Atlantic seaboard where generally we have as much rain as we need and more, rain is a nuisance. It stops play. It’s associated with being cold since temperatures in winter are not high enough to promote quick evaporation. We have enough of it and we’re often sick of it both emotionally and physically.
Contrast our attitude to rain with the other regions of the world. In the desert fringe areas of Africa, or even wetter regions in which rain is very seasonal and its return after months of drought is not a foregone conclusion, the arrival of rain is a cause of great joy and celebration. Rain is a blessing not a nuisance. God is praised and thanked for the gift of rain. Attitudes to rain depend on how abundant or otherwise it is and on how closely daily life, even ultimate survival, is affected by its immediate local availability. Perhaps the only form of precipitation to cause joy for some in the urban areas of north-western Europe is the occasional arrival of snow. Children delight in the play opportunities it offers.
Concerns around rainfall seem to have heightened in densely- populated countries like Britain. Recent decades have seen more episodes of damaging floods in Western Europe with apparently greater intensity as well as amounts of rainfall. Some of these may be related to climate change. Scientists’ modelling predicts the effect of rising global temperatures will be to make temperate regions wetter and rainfall episodes more intense.
But the greater incidence and impact of flooding following heavy rainstorms is also a result of unwise development. Houses and roads are built on floodplains putting them at risk and affecting the local drainage patterns. Deforestation in hill areas upstream prevents rainfall from being absorbed and so it flows more quickly to fill streams and rivers. Schemes to address these issues are being undertaken in some areas but they are costly and divert resources from other important social and community needs.
Stronger measures to control development and to encourage appropriate land management in river basins would prevent some of the flooding, with its human suffering and economic costs. They might also re-balance our attitude to rain.
Today’s image is of a rain-bearing cloud about to deposit over Sharp Haw which overlooks Airedale in North Yorkshire, England.
“Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.” Wendell Berry