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Coping with Floods

As storms lash the country, Germany's rivers respond by rising dramatically past all safety levels. An oft repeated scene unravels as authorities sound out the alarm in particular over the swollen western river Rhine.


The Rhine laps at two benches on the shore

For the fifth time in this year alone, the river Rhine in western Germany rose rapidly as powerful gales whipped across the country and led to chaotic conditions on the streets.

The strong winds caused extensive damage, ripping off roofs and toppling a number of trees, many of which fell on cars, blocking roads and disrupting train services.

The Rhine, Mosel and Saar rivers rose rapidly because of the storm and authorities in the western city of Cologne were putting up protective barriers in preparation for possible flooding.

After heavy rains, the waters of the Rhine near Cologne rose to the dangerous level of 7,78 metres by Wednesday morning with experts forecasting a further rise in the water level to 8,40 metres by Thursday, well past the officially deemed safety limits.

If that ominous warning does come true, the heavy ship traffic plying on the Rhine will have to be halted.

Authorities quick in emergency flooding

The above scenario is nothing new. It's the same story every year, as the waters of the Rhine have been periodically flooding every year since the early 1990s.

The worst flooding of the Rhine took place in 1992/1993 when damages were estimated at over 100 million euro.

Authorities are quick to act every year with handy flooding preventive measures at hand.

This year too 14 high water pumping works have been installed and numerous water draining operations have already been carried out in the canal network.

Lower lying areas and paths as well as car parks located close to the swollen river have been evacuated. Other steps include putting up dikes and mobile walls and sand bags.

With the police, fire brigade and shipping administration on high alert, the city seems to be prepared for even the worst kind of deluge.

No way of preventing floods

But the fact remains that though Germany's disaster management system seems to pull together in case of floods (there aren't other natural disasters in Germany to speak of), there seems to be no way of preventing the Rhine from flooding every year.

Precautionary measures don't seem to play a role while drafting crisis management polices.

The same scene is repeated every year: people losing their homes and belongings during the floods, historic downtowns and state highways getting flooded. The damage is huge, both in monetary and emotional terms.

In most cases the state services which are connected to the DWD (German Weather Forecast Centre) only act once the DWD sounds out a warning of floods. It's often too late to contain the scale of destruction.

Another problem is that budgets which are directly allocated for disaster management are very low in Germany.

For instance the state of Baden Würtemberg spends about 500,000 euro annually for river monitoring equipment and extension, which is low in relation to the area to survey. States such as Northrhine-Westphalia and Bavaria which face similar risks of flooding, also get more or less the same amount.

Is global warming the cause?

The annual flooding in Germany also poses another question: is the flooding the effect of the much touted phrase "climate change"?

Researchers and scientists in Germany are grappling with this question. A report published at a UN "intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change" (IPPC) in Geneva last year revealed that the first impacts of climate change have already become observable, despite the fact that the earth's temperature has risen only 0.6 degrees Celsius over the past 100 years.

The shrinking of glaciers, melting of snow and increasing likelihood of storms and floods have been traced to the phenomenon of global warming.

The expected increase of 3 to 6 degrees Celsius could lead to even further dramatic climate changes.

Last year the German government approved a new climate change programme in response to the global warming challenge.

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