In Germany and Belgium, more than 100 houses have been destroyed, with some torn apart by the strength of the torrents. Even more are severely damaged. In some areas, incoming cars and other heavy objects became lodged into building facades. The heavy rainfall has enlarged rivers, and created torrents in what were previously tunnels, pedestrian walkways, and roadways, causing wreckage in its wake.
In Belgium, people report awaking at 3am and seeing the muddy waters rapidly flooding their basements, living rooms, and kitchens. Many did what they could to save their most important belongings and go to higher floors if possible. Some spent the night on their roofs before being evacuated in shock in the morning.
In Germany, 200,000 people lost access to their power. In Belgium, towns were also left cut off from the external world: 21,000 are without electricity and some even cellular coverage – heightening the need for evacuation due an inability to cook, keep food, or reach emergency services.
In France, vegetable fields, homes and a museum were flooded at Romagne-sous-Montfaucon. Other places in the UK such as London have also been experiencing heavy rainfall due to storms that have caused flooding in tube stations, roadways, and houses. In 48h, some areas received the equivalent of what would normally be one month of rainfall.
How flooding and other extreme weather events are linked to our warming planet
Flooding – the accumulation of water in what is normally dry land – is increasingly affecting coastal and inland communities. It is usually caused by the overflow of inland or tidal waters due to factors such as heavy rainfall or dam breaches.
But in January 2021, the global temperature was the highest on record. And what is clear is that floods are made more frequent and severe due to the increase of extreme weather patterns caused by climate change. Other factors such as the removal of green spaces also increases the risk.
Weaker jet streams due to higher global average temperatures are also to blame. These fast-moving currents of air dictate our weather patterns, but higher average temperatures mean there is a lower temperature gradient between cold air in the polar regions and warm air at the equator, which slows the flow of air. Previously, the jet stream pushed depressions and areas of low air pressure rather quickly across the continent. But today, these take longer to dissipate. Higher temperatures also mean more rainfall; since they increase evaporation and cloud formation.
The reality is that we are already living in a world with 1.1°C of warming. And as global warming increases, so does the likelihood of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, hurricanes, and severe droughts and floods. Just in the last couple of months, we can remember the hurricane that ravaged villages in Czech Republic, as well as the 'largest fire since 1974' in Greece and Cyprus due to heatwaves and longer periods of drought. To reduce the risk of such extreme weather events, we must ensure that we comprehensively tackle climate change.
Facing the floods with solidarity and mutual aid
In Germany, Annalena Baerbock, the Green candidate for the German chancellorship, has expressed her condolences for those mourning their relatives and her worry for the missing and injured. She highlights the importance of helping those affected as quickly as possible: "The people who are standing in front of the ruins of their existence because their belongings, their houses have simply been washed away, must now be helped quickly and unbureaucratically."
Den Menschen, die vor den Trümmern ihrer Existenz stehen, weil ihr Hab und Gut, ihre Häuser einfach weggeschwemmt wurden, muss nun schnell und unbürokratisch geholfen werden.— Annalena Baerbock (@ABaerbock) July 15, 2021
Katja Dörner, the Green Mayor of Bonn, is leading efforts to help neighbouring cities affected by the floods. The Greens in the city council are mobilising to help with short-term accommodation and transport options. In Belgium, the hashtag #TousSolidaires (solidarity) is trending as people from across the country offer help to those affected.
Quand la solidarité s'organise💚Merci à toutes les personnes mobilisées sur le terrain pour venir en aide aux victimes des #inondations !— Ecolo (@Ecolo) July 15, 2021
Du côté de #Theux, ces images d'un centre de dons improvisé, qui nous parviennent de notre députée Julie Chanson, font chaud au cœur. pic.twitter.com/LFhKqfsnr4
Toute ma solidarité aux victimes des #inondations en Belgique au Luxembourg et en Allemagne.— Julien Bayou (@julienbayou) July 15, 2021
Des décennies que les scientifiques nous alertent sur le coût de l'inaction.
En matière d'écologie, c'est l'inaction qui est punitive.
Climate change can either divide us or bring us together, so we should fight to put solidarity and community at the centre of our climate action and our everyday lives. More and more, we will have to learn how to organise to support each-other in the face of disasters. You don't need a natural disaster to connect with your neighbours and local mutual aid groups: building a strong community now will build a resilient future.
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Photo: Jonathan Ford on Unsplash