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London (AFP) Feb 09, 2014
The leader of Britain's eurosceptic UK Independence Party Nigel Farage urged the government Sunday to redirect part of its foreign aid budget towards flood victims at home.
Speaking on a visit to the flood-hit county of Somerset, Farage complained that Britain gives aid to India despite the fact that New Delhi has its own space programme.
"It seems to me that the aid budget is about us giving charity overseas. When you've got an emergency in this country, it's time to say that charity begins at home," he told Sky News.
"The international aid budget is 11 billion pounds ($18 billion, 13 billion euros) a year. All the government have offered so far is less than one percent of that in the form of 100 million pounds -- if suddenly that was five percent or six percent you'd be talking real money."
Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative-led coalition government in fact allocated 130 million pounds last week in emergency relief after weeks of storms and flooding.
Cameron ring-fenced 0.7 percent of the national budget for foreign aid when he took office in 2010, despite making widespread cuts in other government departments to tame a record deficit.
Farage, a member of the European parliament, added: "What are we doing giving 300 million pounds a year to India who've got a space programme, aircraft carriers... So there's a very strong argument that says: spend the money here."
The UKIP leader, visiting Somerset two days after Cameron, also compared the government's handling of the floods to its response last November to Typhoon Haiyan, which killed 8,000 people in the Philippines.
"It's funny isn't it, when there are disasters overseas, and I accept that the Philippines is worse than what's happening here, the British are very quick to send money and to send people," Farage said.
"And it feels to the people living here that we have a serious problem here and no one does anything and no one cares."
Farage's anti-EU, anti-immigration UK Independence Party poses a growing threat to the centre-right Conservatives ahead of European parliament elections in May and Britain's general election next year.
Meanwhile the minister leading the response to the floods, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, admitted the government had made a "mistake" in its handling of the crisis.
Pickles said the government should have dredged rivers to prevent flooding, as local residents demanded months ago.
"We made a mistake, there's no doubt about that and we perhaps relied too much on the Environment Agency's advice," Pickles told the BBC.
The head of the Environment Agency, Chris Smith, has rejected calls to resign over the crisis.
Homes evacuated as floodwaters rise in England
Areas flooded for five weeks were set to endure more misery as heavy rain was forecast to fall on parts of Britain during the day.
Environment Agency chief Chris Smith was to visit one of the worst-hit areas, the Somerset Levels, in southwest England, where many residents say his organisation's response has been ineffective and has led to "devastation".
Royal Marines were sent into flooded areas for the first time on Thursday and helped to evacuate 140 properties in the village of Moorland, after local flood defences were breached following another night of heavy rain, the Ministry of Defence said.
The water in Moorland rose by around one metre (3.3 feet) overnight.
The Marines used two all-terrain Pinzgauer vehicles to carry residents to safety.
Despite warnings from the police to leave the area, a handful of residents refused to desert their homes.
Jan MacEacharn said she had decided to stay because water had not yet entered her house and she had a horse, cats and dogs that she could not abandon.
"Everybody in this village is in absolute devastation," she told BBC TV. "There's not a single person in this village that has got their home left."
Julian Taylor, who moved into a holiday cottage after being evacuated on Wednesday, said: "It's pretty disastrous. You're leaving your property, you're leaving everything you have. You don't know what the future is.
"You couldn't live in a house with nine inches of water on the bottom floor."
Prime Minister David Cameron's government has faced criticism for its handling of a crisis that has left swathes of the country under water, with a key railway line washed away.
The main train line from southwest England to London has been cut off after it was badly damaged by waves in the coastal town of Dawlish this week. It could take weeks to repair.
Residents' anger at government
High waves that have battered the coast of the southwest counties of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall were expected to be whipped up again at the weekend.
Smith, the Environment Agency chief, was expected to face criticism in Somerset about the lack of dredging of rivers, which many Somerset residents blame for the flooding.
Farmer Carol Atyeo told AFP in the deluged Somerset village of Fordgate on Thursday that water was about to overflow from the ditch beside her property and into her house.
"If the rivers could take the water away faster it wouldn't affect the properties," she said.
"And with global warming, as well as heavy rain -- torrential this year -- it's shown that the rivers need to be dredged. They're only running at about 40 percent capacity."
The government said on Thursday it would make an extra 30 million pounds ($48 million, 36 million euros) available for emergency repairs, on top of 100 million pounds already announced by Cameron.
The rainy winter has set records tumbling, being the wettest combined period for December and January across the United Kingdom since 1910, the Met Office has said.
For England alone it was the wettest December to January since 1876-1877 and the second wettest since rainfall records began in 1766.
Meanwhile, in France salvage teams and a coastguard anti-pollution squad were poised to start pumping fuel out of a Spanish cargo ship which has broken into three sections after a spectacular shipwreck in storms.
The teams working near the southwest port of Bayonne face a race against time as new storms were forecast to hit the Atlantic coast at the weekend.
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