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Germany Moves to Limit Flood Damage

More than two years after floods caused billions of euros in damage to parts of Eastern Germany, the federal parliament passed a law that seeks to lessen the damage should the floods come again.


Towns along the Elbe were devastated by the flood

For property owners along the Elbe river, August 2002 was a devastating month.

Record floods swept away family homes, gardens and possessions, leaving more than €9 billion ($11 billion) in damage along the banks of the winding Elbe river from Prague to Brandenburg. Almost immediately Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's cabinet began discussing a law that would limit property development along the river.

On Friday, the results of those discussions won parliamentary approval: The bill foresees a ban on new construction in flood plains along the Elbe river, and allows farmers to plant their fields next to the river only under certain conditions. The upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, will discuss the bill on Sept. 24.

Environmental Minister Jürgen Trittin, who fought hard for the bill, said since floods couldn't be prevented, the damage they cause had to be kept in check.

"Residential and retail developments in flood plains are the flood victims of tomorrow," he said in a statement.

Even settlements along plains where dykes are in place could face a development stop. "No one should think that dykes are a guarantee to stop flooding," said Trittin.

A blow for farmers, communities

Völlig überfluteter Grenzpunkt zwischen Tschechien und Deutschland

A border crossing point in Hrensko between Czech Republic and Germany was completely submerged in swollen Elbe river

Farmers will have to stop planting fields near the river, unless they remain planted year round. Flood plains that are especially erosion-prone will be off limits completely beginning in 2013. Opposition politicians estimated around 900,000 hectares of farming land will be affected.

The farmer's lobby immediately rejected the bill, saying that erosion posed no problem to flood plains.

"A ban on (field planting) has nothing to do with flood protection," the Farmer's Association said in a statement. Opposition members in parliament attacked the bill on another front. Christian Democratic Union parliamentarian Maria Flachsbarth said the building ban would leave communities in a bind. She affixed her name to a statement by the CDU's environmental experts that called the ban "a major blow for the development possibilities of communities and agricultural businesses."

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