07 Jun 2024, 13:41
Benjamin Wehrmann

Environment minister says frequent floods are “new reality” in Germany as farmers count losses

Der Spiegel / ARD

Severe floods like those affecting large parts of southern Germany in June are no longer a “once-in-a-century” event, but rather “a new reality” that the country must come to terms with, said environment minister Steffi Lemke in an interview with news magazine Der Spiegel. “Unfortunately, we will have to prepare for the fact that this is going to happen more frequently from now on,” said the Green Party politician. In early June, the states of Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg were hit by torrential rain lasting several days that caused widespread floods killing at least six people, and led to widespread destruction and pollution - only days after a similar event in the western region of Saarland. Precipitation levels were also well above average last winter, when the north and the centre of the country were hit. “We need to put more effort into prevention,” Lemke said, adding that her ministry was working on a Flood Protection Act that could still be adopted this year. She argued that questions around funding must not stand in the way of preparing the country for new challenges posed by natural hazards “because otherwise things will become much more expensive anyway.” Declaring an emergency would be one option to finance urgent projects without having to stick to the country's ‘debt brake’ rule that limits government borrowing, suggested Lemke. “We won’t get any further by ignoring reality,” she argued.

The recent floods could prove devastating for many farmers who have seen their crops inundated for many days. “The floods have in many cases destroyed large parts of this year’s harvest,” Markus Drexler from the Bavarian Farmers’ Association (BBV) told public broadcaster ARD. The damage to crops like wheat, potatoes, and corn “cannot yet be accurately measured,” but looks to be significant in the worst-hit parts of the state, he said. The extent of the damage depends on whether farmers can access their land with heavy machinery, which is often not possible due to the muddy ground. “Meadows and farmland that have been overwhelmed by the deluge in many cases cannot be recovered or are polluted,“ Drexler added. Bavaria’s government has promised 100 million euros in direct support payments, but this will not nearly be enough to cover the losses, he argued.

Lemke said farmland plays an important role in improving water management and risk prevention by opening land for occasional flooding. She believes, however, that “expropriation is the wrong way” to achieve this. In early 2024, farmers led protests in the country against several climate action measures that would have increased the cost of fossil fuels, leading to a partial government backtrack on its plans. The agriculture industry also rejected the EU's nature restoration law that entails measures to re-naturalise parts of existing farmland to better adapt Europe to a changing climate. “We have to learn to use the land that made us prosper in a different way,” Lemke argued, adding that this could “only happen in dialogue with those affected and will cost a lot of money.” Climate adaptation would now have to become “a task for society.”

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