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Germany

A Battle Plan Against the 'Century' Floods

The flooding that devastated Germany last month might be avoided in the future if Sunday's five-point plan government proposal goes into effect.

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Pictures to avoid in the future

With the devastation wreaked by last month’s floods still fresh in their minds, government ministers passed a five-point plan on Sunday designed to relieve Germany’s rivers of over-development.

The measures will allow the rivers to reclaim their old flood plains by stopping residential and commerical development in flooded regions and turning returning farmland back to its natural state.

Conference participants also put a moratorium on the futher expansion of rivers to accommodate boat traffic. The topic will be discussed at the beginning of 2003.

“No one in the transportation ministry will dispute the need for an environment-friendly flood protection ´plan to hinder future flood catastrophes after today,” said Gerd Billen, director of the environmental organization NABU, one of several organizations to greet the proposals.

Following flooding along the Elbe and Danube rivers and their tributaries last month, experts and environmentalists had criticized the German government's river development policies. Steffi Lemke, a parliamentary leader of Germany’s Green party said that if things aren’t changed “we’re asking for a century of ‘floods of the century.’ ”

The government responded with the one-day National Flooding Conference, which brought together the country’s interior, environment, economic and agriculture and consumer affairs ministers with state government representatives and environmental organizations.

The five-point plan of prevention

The participants were able to agree on a plan rather quickly.

  • Rivers should be given back their natural flood plains – even if that means clearing what is now farmland near the rivers and getting rid of the levees and other regulatory measures that environmentalists said have increased the rivers’ speed four times. Germany’s states must also do more to prohibit residential and commerical development on flood plains.
  • Government on the state and national level should work better together in developing flood warnings and the possible danger flood waters could have on surrounding areas.
  • Cooperation on a European level needs to improve. The German governing coalition said it was willing to help finance cooperative flood fighting measures with neighboring countries.
  • The participants demanded a stop to the expansion of the Elbe River to accomodate larger volumes of boat traffic. Environmentalists the manipulation of the Elbe was one of the major reasons it flooded as much as it did last month. The final paper said the government would take up the issue again at the beginning of 2003 and develop ”river traffic in a more environmental-friendly manner.”
  • Victims of last months flood, which caused billions of euro in damage and left thousands homeless, will have immediate access to the 500 million euro the government has set aside for them.

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