SEight months after the devastating flood in July, the North Rhine-Westphalian Environment Minister Ursula Heinen-Esser (CDU) presented a ten-point work plan for “flood protection in times of climate change”. “We need reliable tools and forecasts to be able to predict as early and as precisely as possible when and where there is a risk of flooding,” said the minister on Thursday.
In mid-July in Rhineland-Palatinate and in the south of North Rhine-Westphalia, days of constant rain turned small and medium-sized watercourses into torrential floods – extreme weather events like this are becoming more and more likely due to climate change. Dozens of towns were devastated; more than 180 people lost their lives, 49 of them in NRW.
After this terrible experience, flood prevention and flood protection should be raised to a new level, said Heinen-Esser. So far, the focus has been too much on large bodies of water like the Rhine. But the forecast standard there now serves as a model for smaller bodies of water, even if it is not possible to make forecasts three days in advance. “But every minute gained can help save lives.”
Organization of reporting channels is being reviewed
The work plan envisages that smaller bodies of water also get a forecast system as soon as possible. In a first step, a model-based forecast for the flood warning levels for the Rur, the Erft, the Sieg, the Ruhr and eight other rivers is to be introduced in the spring. A look at the numbers gives an idea that the construction of the entire system will take a long time: In North Rhine-Westphalia there are flowing waters with a total length of 14,000 kilometers, 438 streams and rivers are classified as risk waters over a length of 5900 kilometers.
The organization of reporting channels and reporting chains is currently being fundamentally reviewed. So far, there is no uniform state regulation for this. A corresponding ordinance is to be issued by autumn. In addition, the work plan provides that the reports of meteorologists and hydrologists are not only made more understandable for the general public. Uniform language rules are also intended to prevent misunderstandings and misinterpretations between authorities, as happened in July.
Because although worrying weather information was available early on, the residents of the communities that were later affected were not warned early and specifically. Significant structural deficiencies also became apparent in the disaster operations in the summer. Many emergency services operated poorly informed and coordinated.
Reul convened a “Civil Protection Competence Team”.
A major problem that turned out to be that in North Rhine-Westphalia there has been no way to declare a disaster of “state-wide scope”. At a state parliament hearing seven years ago, experts had called for the state to be obliged to intervene centrally if large-scale operations and disasters affect more than one district or independent city.
In a joint application, the government factions of the CDU and FDP are now campaigning for temporary transfer of municipal tasks to the state in the event of major disasters. In addition, the state government should promote the introduction of state-wide staff and control center software “so that municipalities can automatically and digitally fulfill their reporting obligations” and situation pictures can be produced.
Interior Minister Herbert Reul (CDU) convened a “Civil Protection Competence Team” shortly after the July flood. The committee, made up of experts from the police, fire brigade, technical relief organization and other organizations, is tasked with identifying the most important problems and making suggestions for improvement. Reul has already ordered the first changes. There is now a separate department in his house that is responsible for state crisis prevention, crisis management by the state government and the protection of critical infrastructure.