With rivers spilling over their banks and levees and dikes straining (and, in some cases, collapsing), thousands in Central Europe have had to evacuate. Many of course took pets to safety, but animals in zoos and on farms, livestock and wild animals have all been struggling to survive. Volunteers have carried goats, sheep and pigs out of a zoo that had flooded in Germany. In the Czech Republic capital of Prague, tigers have been escorted to safety as the government declared a state of emergency in the midst of the worst flooding in a decade.
At least 16 people have died in past weeks in floods throughout Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Germany. One German village, Deggendorf, has been completely submerged under ten feet of water. Other town centers have been inundated as have acres of farmland after two of Germany’s largest rivers, the Danube and the Elbe, overflowed.
With many other areas still underwater, the rain continuing to fall and many still unable to return to their homes, it is not yet clear how much damage has been caused. It is estimated that Germany alone could have in the “high hundreds of millions of euros” in costs, according to the German magazine Der Spiegel.
Experts think the worst is over, but the clean-up and recovery efforts will certainly be immense. German chancellor Angela Merkel has promised an 8 billion euro relief fund and the European Commission’s regional policy commissioner, Johannes Hahn, has said that its European Solidarity Fund will help those affected by the floods as it had after flooding in 2002.
As of June 11, members of a Disaster Response Team from the International Fund For Animal Welfare (IFAW) and from a local organization, Tiertafel, have entered flooded areas to bring food and supplies for animals. As IFAW says, the greatest concern in the days to come will be to provide sufficient food for so many animals. Rescue workers have opened a camp for animals who are flood victims (and are seeking supplies, from dog beds, leashes, toys and more) and are working with the military to enter areas that have been closed off for days. Wild animals are especially in danger, as many of the floodwaters are “heavily contaminated” and few if any natural food sources are likely to have survived.
Massive Floods: Yet More Evidence of Climate Change?
The floods have been described as “historic,” the sort of extreme weather event that occurs “once in a century.” But data about German weather trends reveals that, in the past few decades, “severe rainfall events” are happening much more often than in the past 100 years, says climate scientist Mojib Latif from the Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research in the German Baltic city of Kiel. As he comments,
“In the 1990s we had ‘once-in-a-century’ floods. Then we had them again in 2002, and now in 2013 we are seeing the same again. What used to happen once in a century could well become an event that recurs every decade or so.”
The most recent floods occurred after weeks of unusually heavy rain, caused by a “Mediterranean low.” In this phenomenon, a weather patterns develops over the Mediterranean sea, draws in vast amounts of water and then goes up to the Alps before heading East, to Poland and the Czech Republic and then to Germany. As a result, the region had excessive rainfall in May and early June. By the time the latest rains occurred, the ground was already saturated and streams and rivers were swelling.
Gerhard Lux, a meteorologist at the German Meteorological Office, says that weather forecasters have been able to predict the heavy rainfalls. The problem is that Germany, along with many other countries, has yet to create the necessary infrastructure, by creating more natural flood planes and placing bans on buildings in risk areas.
One town, Eilenburg in Saxony, saw its town center completely underwater in the floods in 2002. Afterwards, authorities did “exactly what environmentalists, experts and politicians” requested, building new dikes, moving some further from the Mulde River so it would have room to overflow and “sacrific[ing] part of an industrial park.” While 7,000 had to be evacuated in the recent floods, damage was limited.
Eilenburg’s willingness to accept the reality of climate change has had positive results. Just seeing these deer up to their necks in water near the Elbe River outside of Berlin should be reason for everyone to realize that, yes, extreme weather events are happening more often and we need to be prepared.
Photo by Lon&Queta