Lessons learnt from Germany flooding
ON July 15, 2021, the world woke up to the news that countries in central and western Europe had been devastated by floods. Hit most was Germany, with over 1 000 people missing, hundreds dead and infrastructure destroyed, especially in the Rhineland states.
While all wondered how this tragedy took place and the climate change emergency debate peaked, Germany’s response to the disaster gave us lessons, especially after our failed warning and response systems when Cyclone Idai struck on March 15, 2019.
The early warning system which was done in Germany, ahead of the heavy rainfall and record flooding was near perfect, although some critics argue that some finer details were lacking.
The argument being that the intensity, ferocity of the rains were not appropriately captured. But all the same, early warning was done using all communication platforms available in the digital era.
The fact that two months’ amount of rainfall was received within one or two days triggered floods never seen in Germany for almost a century. But with urbanisation and some settlements close to rivers, the flooded rivers burst their banks, encroaching into settlements and inflicting untold destruction.
Yet when Cyclone Idai struck us, early warning was not done well. Most communities through which the cyclone blazed knew nothing about the looming disaster. The issue was not about the ferocity, etc of the cyclone, but put simply people knew nothing to little and only found themselves drowning.
In the internet age, all media platforms, that is, social media, public address systems, meetings, radios, TVs, newspapers were supposed to be used to warn people in Chimanimani, Chipinge etc who bore the brunt of Cyclone Idai.
But this did not happen. Cyclone Idai was not taken seriously and even after it struck, it took a week for the right message to be conveyed to government and non-governmental organisations.
As a nation and region, we have a lot to learn from the early warning that was done in west and central Europe ahead of the floods.
The response to the flooding in Germany and other countries hit hard by the floods was precise. First of all, just like in any other disastrous situation, the affected communities responded by helping each other first. Activating local government structures to help affected people. Then government intervention at highest level followed.
Within four days after flooding, German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the affected areas. The same happened in Belgium, Luxembourg etc. But when Idai hit Chimanimani etc, it took weeks for the national leadership to visit the affected areas amid allegations that inaccurate information was being communicated from those on the ground.
In Germany, national resources were quickly activated to alleviate and give relief to the survivors of the disaster, while it took weeks to get help to Cyclone Idai victims and up to now, they still need help two years later.
So the flooding, which took place in Europe, while it is a grave tragedy, gives us lessons, first as individuals, communities, countries and region. It gives us an opportunity to introspect, teach and equip ourselves to face natural disasters.
With global warming a permanent feature, we need to use all available tools to deal with climate change-induced natural disasters. It is not about floods only, but heatwaves, droughts and increasingly dangerous winds that destroy infrastructure, livelihoods, lives etc which we have to contend with.
Zimbabwe cannot be left behind. Our country is prone to the vagaries of climate change and a frontline State in the climate change warfare.
We need to adapt, streamline climate change and be informed on what to do and not to do on the eve of flooding, during and soon after, that way we can save lives.