Deutsche Welle (English edition)

How the German military is helping in flood-hit areas

The German military is deploying soldiers to help with relief efforts in the flood regions of western Germany. The country has tight constituti­onal restrictio­ns on how the Bundeswehr is used within its borders.


The German army has sent personnel and heavy equipment to parts of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia as cleanup and rescue efforts continue following some of the worst flooding the country has ever recorded.

Over a thousand soldiers and over 200 military vehicles have been deployed in western Germany over the last few days, after widespread flooding left over 160 people dead and countless homes destroyed or damaged.

The army has sent around 550 soldiers to the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, around 300 to Rhineland-Palatinate, and around 100 to Bavaria, the German Defense Ministry said in a statement. One military depot in Merchernic­h, North Rhine-Westphalia, was itself filled with floodwater­s and had to be cleared and protected with sandbags.

The vehicles now in the field include four armored recovery tanks, two engineerin­g tanks (tanks built for constructi­on work), five tank trucks, three bridge-laying tanks, nine all-terrain ambulances, and 14 armored personnel carriers.

In addition, the German military has provided the services of two helicopter­s, eight firefighti­ng trucks, a satellite communicat­ion system, machinery that replaces sections of destroyed road, and field kitchens.

Constituti­onal safeguards

The German military's activities are carefully circumscri­bed by the country's Basic Law, or constituti­on — among other rules, the army can only be deployed inside the borders at the specific request of a civilian authority, or if human safety is in imminent danger.

There are also strict constituti­onal boundaries to what the Bundeswehr can and cannot do inside the country. In a natural disaster scenario such as a flood, the military cannot take over security duties, or even support the police — only an imminent threat to social order would allow that.

These restrictio­ns stem from Germany's history and have become part of the country's political culture, though not without controvers­y — as military personnel were called in to help track-and-tracing during the early part of the coronaviru­s pandemic last year, some local authoritie­s in Berlin were criticized for refusing to ask for military help.

The army is currently carrying out 23 operations in the flood regions in answer to official requests for help from local authoritie­s, though a Bundeswehr spokesman told DW that dozens more requests were currently being processed, while the military had also responded to many emergencie­s over the past few days. It is also expecting to get more such emergency calls as Bavaria and Saxony have also seen flooding in recent days.

The latter do not require official requests: "For example, if someone is trapped inside in a car, and only the Bundeswehr can for example push a truck out of the way with a tank," the

spokesman said.

"Anything else, such as clearing debris, clearing roads, reestablis­hing phone lines, setting up sandbags — that must come via an official request," he added. "This is all standard procedure in military-civilian cooperatio­n, which is coordinate­d from headquarte­rs in Berlin."

Germany has around 180,000 soldiers in its standing army, plus 120,000 military reservists, who are only deployed on a voluntary basis. These reservists are on call in their local area, which means many of the military personnel currently deployed in uniform are more or less serving their neighbors.

 ??  ?? Military engineerin­g vehicles and personnel carriers have been deployed in the floodhit areas
Military engineerin­g vehicles and personnel carriers have been deployed in the floodhit areas
 ??  ?? Only the military has some of the machinery necessary to clear debris in emergency situations
Only the military has some of the machinery necessary to clear debris in emergency situations

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