German Tragedy, European tragedy

(Source: Boris Roessler, AFP)

By Anna Grout

A human tragedy 

The catastrophic floods of recent days  in Germany and also in Belgium will have struck the mind because of their suddenness and their intensity and magnitude. 

The torrential rains of 13 and 14 July led to the breaking out of their beds of several rivers such as Meuse in Germany and the saturation of a German dam, causing violent flooding of nearby towns whose homes and businesses have been ripped apart by powerful current, telephone lines destroyed and frightening and devastating landslides. In the Ahr Valley, 20 out of 35 bridges were destroyed. The public railway company found « massive damage » at 80 stations. In Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia, the two Länder most affected by the weather, more than 600 km of roads have been destroyed.

The German weather service recorded 154 mm of rain in Cologne on 14 July, representing more than 150 litres of waterier square meter. This weather phenomenon has a name: the «  cold drop »: according to specialists, it is an « isolated air pocket which has natural tendency to block over a large area. Around the cold depression, hot air with a high content of water vapour condenses and causes significant waterfalls ».

This tragedy is one of the biggest natural disasters of the last decades in Germany. It caused the death of 169 people in Germany and 31 in Belgium, bringing the provisional toll to 200 European victims. Dozens of people are still missing in both countries , 53 « missing or unreachable on the Belgian side.


National and international solidarity

In Germany financial aid of EUR 400 million was immediately proposed by Berlin and the regions responsible for civil protection, for flood victims. The objective of this aid is to secure damaged buildings and infrastructure in the regions most affected by the floods, for some without drinking water and electricity or threatened by gas leaks.

These sums will be supplemented by « a reconstruction programme amounting to billions of euros, so that we can move forward quickly », said Finance Minister Olaf Scholz. Berlin is also planning to call on the European Solidarity Fund which provides financial support to Member States int the European Union in the event of natural disaster. Moreover, the State is considering the creation of its own Fund, which is also supplied by all German regions in order to be able to release aid even faster in the event of a new disaster.

In Belgium a national mourning was decreed for the day of Tuesday, July 20. « It is going to take a lot of work, maybe 10 years to get back to normal, but there has been so much solidarity that you can do miracles », a senior public servant said. King Philip, for his part, referred to the « human leap » that allows the population to hold out. 

Many signs of solidarity have been issued by the international community. The Franco-German associations as well as the mayors of many French cities twinned with those affected have expressed their support to the bereaved families, such as Avignon, twinned with the city of Wetzlar, Viry-Chatillon paired with Erftstadt who voted a grant of aid and relied for his German friends, Guidel twinned with cities of Rhein Erftkreis (district of Rheine and Erft), or the town of Eu in Seine-Maritime twinned with the town of Haan. The founder of the German community in Avignon also invited the victims to come and spend a few days in Provence «  to restore their morale ». Calls for donations were also launched by several associations such as Re-actors, which organized a collection of essential products: blankets, hygiene, food, cleaning , etc. Anyone wishing to participate can contact Re-actors.

Climate change exacerbates the disaster

These rains are not extraordinary, but their intensity is and can also tend to increase in power and intensity due to climate change. Some meteorologists rely on the law of Clausius Clapeyron – which  links the maximum amount of water vapour that the atmosphere can contain and the temperature of the latter – to deduce that these phenomena are the consequence of the global rise in temperature.

According to the Director of the research Institute Pierre-Simon Laplace, the warming of air and oceans leads to a higher concentration of water vapor. «  With more steam, precipitation, especially the strongest, is more intense. So there’s more water to the ground when things happen ».

The conclusions to be drawn from such tragedies are always the same: wee must curb global warming by rethinking our lifestyles and consumption patterns, if we do not want to see them reproduce and intensify. In the short term, it is also necessary to react to the human aspect of these events affecting our German and Belgian friends an neighbours and to show them attention and concern. Europe also makes sense on bad hours. Their tragedy is ours.

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