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The German federal government has announced a â¬ 200 million aid package to support regions devastated by floods last week which killed at least 170 people months before national elections.
The initial funds will come on top of the roughly 250 million euros offered by regional governments and will focus on rebuilding infrastructure washed away by the worst floods in Germany in 50 years, as well as supporting businesses destroyed by the flood.
“We will do what is necessary,” said Olaf Scholz, the country’s finance minister, on Wednesday, estimating that reconstruction costs would amount to billions of euros. He said reconstruction after the last major floods in Germany in 2002 cost around â¬ 6 billion.
“This is why people pay taxes,” said Federal Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer of the Christian Social Union, “so that they can be helped in exceptional situations”.
The floods are expected to be one of the costliest natural disasters in Germany over the past hundred years, both in terms of human lives and reconstruction.
At least 155 people remain missing in the hard-hit district of Ahrweiler alone in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate.
âUnfortunately, it is very likely that the victims can only be recovered, not rescued,â she told Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland.
GDV, a trade body representing German insurers, said it expected insured losses of up to â¬ 5 billion – only part of the costs, given it estimates that only 46% of German owners are insured against flooding.
Germany has been rocked by the difficulty with which it appears to have coped with flooding that weather systems warned days in advance, echoing frustrations over the government’s grumbling response to the coronavirus pandemic. Early debates over whether the floods signaled the onset of climate change-induced disasters in the developed world gave way to heated questions about whether federal and regional authorities could have acted more quickly or done so. more to warn residents of the danger.
Opposition Free Democrats on Monday accused Seehofer’s ministry of actually allowing a “failure of the system.”
This perception is already starting to have an impact on polls measuring public sentiment ahead of the German Bundestag elections in September 2021, which will appoint Angela Merkel’s successor after 16 years in power.
His Christian Democratic Union candidate for chancellor Armin Laschet has faced public outrage after being filmed joking and laughing this week as the country’s president delivers a grim speech to the victims floods. Laschet, prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, one of the worst affected states, apologized. But in the aftermath of the incident, his party lost two points in a 28 percent opinion poll.
Yet the candidates of her main rival parties – Annalena Baerbock from the Greens and Scholz from the Social Democrats – did not appear to take advantage.
Baerbock still holds the lowest score in public polls for crisis management, despite his party’s long-standing message on climate change.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Seehofer and Health Minister Jens Spahn announced a new civil protection strategy, which would include a federal and state crisis center for pandemics and disasters.
Warning systems using sirens – which had been neglected or dismantled in recent decades – will be strengthened, along with expanded cellular broadcasts. Seehofer also called for more media and resident engagement.
âWe need to educate all members of the population on how to deal with disaster scenarios,â he said.
Additional reporting by Ian Smith in London