German Minister rejects criticism of flood warnings | Climate News


German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has dismissed accusations the country’s government failed to warn people enough of the devastating floods last week as political complaints over the deadly natural disaster escalated.

Floods have wreaked havoc in parts of western Europe since last Wednesday, with the German states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia, as well as parts of Belgium, being among the worst affected.

It is now confirmed that 117 people have died in Rhineland-Palatinate, with 47 victims in neighboring North Rhine-Westphalia and one in Bavaria. Many more are still missing.

At least 31 people also died in Belgium in the floods, and later torrential rains wreaked havoc in southern Germany and several neighboring countries.

The high death toll, which is expected to rise, has raised questions about why so many appeared to have been surprised by the flash floods.

“Systemic failure”

Several opposition politicians have criticized the government’s handling of the crisis, suggesting that the number of deaths recorded so far reveals serious shortcomings in Germany’s flood preparedness.

Michael Theurer, a senior member of the opposition center-right Free Democrats Party, said in an interview with the DPA news agency that the toll revealed a “systemic failure” in the emergency response.

Susanne Hennig-Wellsow, leader of the left-wing Linke party, has called for Seehofer’s resignation.

But speaking during a visit to the flood-ravaged city of Euskirchen in North Rhine-Westphalia, the Home Secretary fended off criticism of the national government’s response to the floods.

He told reporters that the German National Weather Service (DWD) issues warnings to the 16 German states and from there to districts and communities that decide locally how to respond.

Under the German federal system, it is up to the 16 regional states to organize responses to flood alerts and coordinate efforts with the civil protection office and the fire department.

“It would be totally inconceivable for such a disaster to be managed centrally from any location. You need local knowledge, ”Seehofer said.

“It is not Berlin that declares the state of emergency, it is done locally,” he added, before declaring that criticism of the emergency response was “cheap election campaign rhetoric. “.

Accompanying Seehofer on his tour of the flood-affected areas, the director of the disaster management agency, Armin Schuster, said the warning systems had worked perfectly: more than 150 flood warning messages had been sent. .

Political upheaval

The devastation of the floods, attributed by meteorologists to the effects of climate change, could shake the German federal elections in September, which until now had hardly been debated on the climate.

Adam Raney of Al Jazeera, in a report from Arloff in North Rhine-Westphalia, said there was “some skepticism” within the local community that the government led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel had ” sufficiently prepared the people ”.

“We are seeing forays from other parties, like the Greens, who are hoping to capitalize on this moment – this huge catastrophe that people here believe should not have happened in a country so rich and powerful in the heart of Europe, “he said.

Annalena Baerbock, the Greens’ candidate to replace Merkel as chancellor after the September 26 elections, called on Monday for a more centralized approach.

“In my opinion, the federal government needs to play a much stronger coordinating role,” she told broadcaster ARD.

The government is preparing a back-up plan

The worst flooding has seen entire communities cut off without electricity or communications.

Residents were trapped in their homes by the rapidly rising waters and a number of homes collapsed, leaving what Merkel described on Sunday as “terrifying” scenes.

The DWD weather service warned Monday last week that heavy rains were heading towards western Germany and flooding was very likely.

On Wednesday morning, he said on Twitter that the risk of flooding was increasing and called on the population to seek advice from local authorities.

The German government is currently preparing a relief plan for hard-hit communities in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, as well as Bavaria and Saxony, where further flooding occurred over the weekend.

A government source told Reuters on Monday that immediate aid worth around 400 million euros ($ 340 million) was being discussed, half of which would be paid by the federal government and the other half. by states.

The relief plan, which is also expected to include billions of euros for longer-term reconstruction efforts, is due to be presented to cabinet on Wednesday.

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