The German government faces increasing questions about how well prepared the authorities were for a devastating natural disaster.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has defended Germany’s alert systems against widespread criticism following last week’s deadly floods.
During a visit to the flood-hit state of North Rhine-Westphalia on Tuesday, Merkel said Germany had a “very good warning system” but promised a comprehensive review of “what worked and what didn’t. “in the wake of the natural disaster.
It was Merkel’s second visit to the region since the flood, which killed at least 165 people in Germany and 31 in neighboring Belgium.
He said the government will discuss the use of cellular transmission flood warning systems in the future after criticism that people in affected areas were not sufficiently warned of the danger.
Merkel said that under Germany’s federal system, the Meteorological Service and the Federal Office for Population and Disaster Protection had quickly relayed information to local governments, but they were unable to evacuate people before the rapidly rising waters.
Under Germany’s federal system, it is up to the 16 regional states to organize responses to flood warnings and coordinate efforts with the civil protection bureau and the fire brigade.
“You can debate for a long time about alert mechanisms,” Merkel said, while emphasizing that the country’s mobile phone app, Nina, had worked as planned in the face of the impending disaster.
He said that while those whose homes still had WiFi received warning messages, many of those who were out of service due to the collapse of mobile phone networks were deprived of emergency information.
“Perhaps the old mermaid is more useful than we think,” he added.
His comments came as authorities faced mounting criticism for the events of the past week, which saw Europe’s richest economy caught in a disaster that had been predicted days earlier.
Questions arose about how well prepared local and national authorities were for the floods that hit defenseless towns and villages.
Several experts said the unprecedented scale of the floods meant that existing flood defenses would inevitably be overwhelmed.
But critics pointed to flaws in warning sirens, delayed evacuations and rogue cellphone warning systems whose effectiveness was limited due to network disruption and data protection concerns.
Merkel’s political opponents suggested that the number of deaths recorded so far reveals serious shortcomings in Germany’s flood preparedness.
Government officials have repeatedly rejected those suggestions, arguing that the country’s warning systems had worked.
The parliamentary internal affairs committee will meet next week to discuss how well the systems work.
With the country some 10 weeks away from national elections, the floods have put the crisis management skills of Germany’s leaders at the top of the political agenda.
An opinion poll conducted since the floods began last week showed slight progress for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party (CDU).
But Armin Laschet, the party’s proposed state prime minister to succeed her as chancellor, has seen his own approval after he was filmed laughing as President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited one of the flood zones.
The financial cost of Germany’s worst natural disaster in nearly 60 years will also weigh heavily on the next government.
In addition to the unprecedented spending on coronavirus relief measures, the cost is sure to run into the billions. Bavarian Environment Minister Thorsten Glauber said his southern state would spend 40 billion euros on flood defenses over the next 20 years.
For immediate relief, the federal government plans to provide 200 million euros ($ 236 million) in emergency aid to repair damaged buildings and local infrastructure, and to help people in crisis situations, a draft document showed, which is will deliver to the cabinet on Wednesday.
That will be added to the 200 million euros that would come from the 16 federal states. The government also hopes to receive financial support from the European Union solidarity fund.
The disaster has also magnified the issue of climate change in Germany ahead of the Sept. 26 poll that will mark the end of Merkel’s 16 years in power, and the 67-year-old has already announced that she will not seek another term in office.