The extreme flooding that occurred in Germany and surrounding countries mid-July has highlighted the need for a strong environmental agenda. 

The floods

On July 13th 2021, 15 centimetres of rain fell onto Western Germany in just 24 hours. Belgium, The United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Luxembourg also experienced heavy levels of precipitation during this period. The rain had accumulated in such high quantities due to a cold, low pressure area nicknamed “Bernd” by German scientists. In Belgium, rainfall was highest in the regions of Jalhay and Spa. While in Germany, rainfall was initially highest in the Western states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate. The unusually high level of precipitation caused rivers, sewage systems and dams to overflow. The storm continued to move South East, hitting new parts of Southern Germany and entering Austria. 

Last week, on July 24th 2021, heavy thunderstorms caused further flooding. The storms were centralized in Belgium and in the Southern Netherlands. 

See before and after images: Europe flood before and after images

The Damage

In Western Germany, sewage systems and dam failure resulted in massive landslides and the destruction of housing power lines, roads, and other infrastructure. With power lines down in many regions, people have been warned to stay out of water to avoid risk of electrical shock. Some residents have been forced to climb onto rooftops and into trees to stay above water. The ‘Bundeswehr’, Germany’s unified armed forces have been deployed into affected areas to remove floating debris and to help evacuate residents. 

Stranded residents being rescued by a Helicopter post flash floods

Despite all efforts to evacuate residents, an astounding number of deaths were caused by this extreme weather event. At least 217 people have died in the floods in total; 177 in Germany, 37 in Belgium, 1 in Italy, 1 in Austria, and 1 in Romania. Hundreds of people remain missing, but officials say that this high number may be due to inability to reach people physically and over the telephone. 

The deadly flash floods that occured in Germany in 2002 lead to the creation of the ‘European Flood Awareness system’. This system aims to inform officials of possible flooding days ahead of time. Nineteen years later, authorities were lucky to have the system in place. Firefighters were informed to be on high alert and smartphone users who had installed disaster warning apps were signaled ahead of time. Although meteorological warnings were put out through news outlets and weather forecasts, some local authorities did not order any evacuations in time or at all. Many people believe that more should have been done to get civilians to prepare.

Recovering from the Floods

In an interview with ​​Bild, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz promised emergency aid of at least 300 million euros to flooding victims. He also pushes for a multi-billion dollar reconstruction program to the help towns affected. To read in English: Scholz promises at least 300 million emergency aid

The week following the first flooding, chancellor of Germany; Angela Merkel, visited affected areas to see the damage first hand. In Adenau, Rhineland-Palatinate, Merkel addressed the horrors caused by the natural disaster. She explains how events like these will become more common and that greater action needs to be taken in order to combat climate change:

“We came here today to make it clear we get a real picture of a surreal situation [. . .]  We will face the nature’s violence in the short term, but in the long term, we will want to drive more climate policies.”

-Angela Merkel

Her speech hints that electing a party like the Greens may be advantageous at a time like this.

The polls

In a weekly poll released Friday July 23rd, the Green party of Germany held 19% of the vote. This number has more than doubled since the last federal elections in 2017. Climate change is likely to be on top-of-mind for many voters after the horrific flooding. With the next election just 2 months away, many believe that the Greens may stand a chance at taking office. 

Annalena Baerbock, Green party leader and candidate for chancellor, has a plan for preventing damage caused by floods and other natural disasters. While speaking to reporters in Berlin, she acknowledged that; “protection against floods, rebuilding cities to make them resilient against climate change costs money,” but proposes that measures could be paid for with money generated from carbon taxes.

For more on the German Greens and the upcoming election:

German Greens Attained Runner up Position in Recent Polls

For more on flooding in Europe:

European Floods will Shape the Future of Politics

Hailey Roop

Hailey is an undergraduate student at McGill University studying Economics and Environment. She is interested in addressing environmental and social issues through community engagement efforts. In her free time, she likes to explore the city of Montreal on foot or by bike!

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