German government faces growing questions about how well-prepared authorities were for devastating natural disaster.
Germany’s cabinet has approved an approximately 400 million euro ($472m) package of immediate aid for the victims of last week’s devastating floods.
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said on Wednesday more money could yet be provided to help people deal with the aftermath of the deadly natural disaster if needed.
“We will do what is necessary to help everyone as quickly as possible,” he told reporters in the capital, Berlin.
The package will be half financed by the federal government and half by Germany’s 16 state governments.
Authorities in the two most heavily affected states of Rhineland-Palatinate and neighbouring North Rhine-Westphalia are responsible for determining which individuals receive aid, and how much.
But Scholz said they have indicated that there will no means-testing of potential recipients and the money will be distributed in “a very unbureaucratic process”.
“It’s necessary to send a message quickly that there is a future, that we are taking care of it together, that this is a matter for us as the whole country to help with,” he said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a visit to North Rhine-Westphalia on Tuesday that she hopes getting money to people “is a question of days”.
‘We will rebuild’
Germany has recent experience with major floods that hit swaths of the country, particularly the east, in 2002 and 2013.
Those incidents caused extensive and costly damage.
However, the death tolls were particularly high in last week’s floods, which were the worst in living memory in the areas they hit.
At least 170 people were killed in Germany when small rivers swelled quickly into raging torrents after persistent downpours.
Another 31 died in neighbouring Belgium, bringing the combined death toll in both countries to more than 200.
Scholz said that government aid for rebuilding after the 2013 floods has totalled about 6 billion euros ($7bn) so far and it could end up being more this time.
He said the coming months would bring a “billions-strong reconstruction programme to clear the devastation” and restore houses, schools, hospitals, roads, bridges and railways.
“We will rebuild – rebuild businesses, rebuild factories, rebuild buildings,” he added.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who faced calls from opposition politicians to resign over the high death toll from the floods, also said there would be no shortage of money for reconstruction efforts.
“That is why people pay taxes, so that they can receive help in situations like this. Not everything can be insured,” he told a news conference.
Floods dominate political agenda
The floods have dominated the political agenda in Germany less than 10 weeks before a national election scheduled for September and raised uncomfortable questions about why Europe’s richest economy was caught flat-footed.
Two-thirds of Germans believe that federal and regional policymakers should have done more to protect communities from the disaster, a survey by the INSA institute for German mass-circulation paper Bild showed on Wednesday.
Annalena Baerbock, the opposition Green party’s flag bearer for the upcoming poll, called for a more coordinated approach to warning citizens while stressing the country must prepare better for extreme weather events due to global warming.
“Germany has been fortunate for decades in suffering relatively few natural catastrophes,” she told German news magazine Der Spiegel.
“But that’s meant that the disaster protection measures haven’t been sufficiently developed, although experts have been warning for years about climate-driven extreme weather events.”
Merkel, who is retiring this year after 16 years in power, said on Tuesday that authorities would look at what had not worked after being widely accused of not being prepared despite weather warnings from meteorologists.
“Now we’ve got to look at what worked and what didn’t work, without forgetting that this was flooding as we haven’t seen in a long, long time,” she said.
Merkel added that even experts had been taken by surprise by the sheer brutal force and speed of last week’s rains.