Abergeldie, an imposing 16th century castle right by Balmoral, the Scottish holiday home of the British royal family, faced an uncertain future early this week following incessant rains and a swollen nearby river, which has risen ominously close to the imposing building, reportedly covering much of the estate.

The past month has been a harsh time for much of northern England and Scotland, where unprecedented heavy rainfall caused widespread flooding, devastation and damage; hundreds of people were forced to evacuate their homes, and a number of deaths were recorded.

The crisis gathered pace at the end of December when even parts of the cities of Manchester, Leeds and York were under water. KPMG forecasts that the costs of the flooding — including to insurers, businesses, local government and infrastructure repairs — will be higher than £5 billion, with costs to the insurance industry estimated between £1 billion and £1.5 billion.

Coming just a month after floods devastated Chennai and other parts of Tamil Nadu, comparisons between the crises in the two countries — their causes and handling — are inevitable.

Prior warning

On the surface, they appear very different, particular in terms of their tragic consequences: while deaths linked to the flooding totalled a handful in Britain, the official death toll for Tamil Nadu stands at 280. Still, there are a number of clear parallels.

In neither situation did the extreme weather come completely out of the blue — Britain has been hit by regular flooding over the past few years, with flooding even affecting parts of London in 2007, and some 5,000 homes impacted in 2014.

Just as in Chennai, where poor planning and illegal construction on former waterways came into the spotlight following the floods, the British floods have raised questions about building in areas at risk of flooding.

An analysis conducted by the Financial Times late last year estimates that around 10,000 homes a year are built on flood plains (after permission was granted by local authorities), despite warnings from a range of bodies including the central government body charged with flooding policy, the Environment Agency.

Critics have also pointed to misaligned incentives: homebuilders share little of the cost of flooding risk, and thereby having no reason to avoid at risk areas.

Government’s hand

The crisis mismanagement issues that plagued Chennai — such as the opening of the sluice gates of Chembaramkbakkam over two days at the height of the flooding rather than gradually over November when the risks of heavy rainfall were already known — were also apparent in Britain, though perhaps not to the same devastating extent. For example, the Environment Agency has come under criticism for its handling of the situation in the city of York, where it opened the flood barriers of one of the city’s two rivers, even though the water levels hadn’t reached record levels, and where several hundred homes were flooded as a result.

The role of government and government bodies have also come into play in the UK in a number of ways, as they did in Tamil Nadu: firstly, the Conservative government’s austerity drive, and bid to return the country to a budget surplus by 2020. In 2010, the coalition government cut the Environment Agency’s budget for flood defences; further followed. In 2012, The Guardian estimated that nearly 300 projects to bolster flood defences across the country had not yet been built as a result of cuts, and urgent action was not taken despite urgent warnings. As recently as November, the Association of Drainage Authorities warned that government cuts were resulting in minimal or no maintenance being carried out on flood defences, which were likely to result in the “failure of assets and networks”. Over half a million homes could be at risk by 2035, as a result of the cuts, it warned.

Its also rekindled sensitivities about central government attitudes towards the north of England, with some politicians arguing that the government would never have let the situation get so out of hand further south, in cities close to London, and that much of what happened in December 2015 was a “preventable disaster”.

As with Chennai, individual senior figures have also come in for sharp criticism — Philip Dilley, the chair of the Environment Agency, faced a public outcry for being away on holiday in Barbados during a crucial part of the crisis (the agency has faced sharp criticism for attempting to mask the fact that he had been away, while he had previously criticised a predecessor for not being on the ball and had pledged to work “seven days a week” during a crisis).

The government has also been criticised for failing to turn to potential sources of help, such as the EU’s solidarity fund, intended to help member states facing costly disasters. The forthcoming referendum on EU membership has made EU resources a sensitive topic in Britain.

Plus and minus

Both crises also seemed to bring out the best as well as the uglier side of people — though the public actions in the UK weren’t on the scale of the huge and astounding humanitarian and community effort in Chennai, there were heartwarming stories of community action, including a group of refugees in Manchester who helped out nearby impacted communities because they were eager to “give back” to the country that had taken them in. At the same time, the public debate got ugly at times, with a petition calling for Britain’s foreign aid budget to be diverted towards the floods as though it were a zero sum game, gaining supporters.

Overall, what the two countries seem to have shared was a failure of leadership to recognise the increasing pressures being put (and to increasingly be put) on land and infrastructure as a result of unpredictable and extreme weather patterns becoming the norm — even in the face of warnings and past events that should have been harbingers of what was to come. In both countries, the crises have triggered massive public outcry. Whether the authorities rise to the challenge and grasp the opportunity to take the action on the scale necessary remains to be seen.