Wolfgang Münchau Wolfgang Münchau

Could Germany’s flood disaster have been prevented?

(Photo: Getty)

As the floods which have devastated homes and caused over 150 deaths recede in the Rhineland, three types of political implications have already emerged.

People are talking about climate change – for the first time during the campaign. Armin Laschet, Merkel’s successor, failed to rise to the occasion when he was caught laughing as the German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier addressed grieving families in the Rhineland. And it also emerged that flood warnings were issued, but were not passed on to the population.

Germany is still in shock, especially because other parts of the country have since flooded. South-eastern Bavaria has now suffered the worst floods ever recorded, with massive destruction of infrastructure. The political fallout will take some time to emerge. But the Greens stand to profit from all three of these developments.

The European flood awareness system issued a warning four days before the catastrophe, and transmitted warnings to the German weather services. In the ensuing days, further information was sent, including correct predictions about where the floods would hit the hardest. But this information was not acted on. One of the developers of the flood alert system spoke of a monumental failure of the German authorities. It looks as though the federal and state authorities could not agree among each other on how to proceed.

There was also a failure of the public broadcasters which did not report on the flood warnings. But these accusations against the state suggest a much deeper malaise in the system. The German weather service passed on the information to the federal and state authorities that deal with natural catastrophes, which is where the information got stuck. Bild newspaper has spoken to a former head of the association of firefighters who has accused the German government of incompetence and gross negligence.

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