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Security Brief: EMH2 Week of July 12, 2021

Week of Monday, July 12, 2021 | Issue 20

Alyssa Schmidt, Aman Barekzai, Emergency Management, Health, and Hazards (EMH2) Team


High Water in Miesenheim, Germany[1]


Date: July 14, 2021

Location: Germany

Parties involved: The European Union; German government; German emergency personnel; State and Local health departments; Bundeswehr; German residents

The event: Due to the torrential rainfall that has been occurring throughout Europe, Germany has experienced severe flooding which has destroyed multiple towns and villages. According to the German Weather Service, several areas within Germany have not experienced this high level of rainfall in over 100 years.[2] Consequently, this has resulted in the destruction of homes, buildings, and critical infrastructure placing residents and emergency personnel at risk. The death toll is around 49, with 1300 people assumed missing.[3] Emergency rescue efforts are currently underway.

The implications:

  • Although the rainfall has subsided, officials are warning that the threat of flooding could extend for several days before standing water is gone, which has resulted in mass evacuations in endangered areas, with villages and town districts being assisted by armed forces. With a massive influx of people migrating, this could increase the risk of spreading COVID-19 specifically, the Delta variant. Overcrowded disaster shelters and hospitals could experience cluster outbreaks of COVID-19, which may lead to increased active cases.

  • Excessive rainfall and flooding have also resulted in the destruction of resident’s homes, farmlands, businesses, and personal belongings. It is likely that residents whose homes and personal belongings were destroyed during the floods will have to rebuild, placing a significant toll on their physical and mental health as they attempt to find temporary housing. This may leave individuals without a permanent place to reside until all the damage and debris of the floods are cleaned. It is likely that the government will have to provide aid until the destruction is assessed, which may prove to be difficult due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic since the government must determine when and how to distribute funds. With two immediate funding considerations, people may lose out or not receive as much as they need or want.

  • Flooding across Germany has resulted in exposed sewer and utility lines. Excessive standing water may pose a threat to trapped residents and emergency personnel since water can be electrically charged if a fallen power line is submerged. Consequently, this can lengthen response times between emergency personnel as they assess the threat of fallen utility lines. It is likely that emergency personnel will have to take more time to determine alternative routes if utility lines have fallen, which could delay response to those receiving aid.

  • The heavy rain and flooding throughout Germany have also resulted in the destruction of cellphone towers and fiber optic cables, significantly impacting emergency management response. With downed cellphone towers, it is likely that emergency services will be interrupted, which may impact rescue efforts. Increased response times may place vulnerable individuals at an even higher risk. Additionally, downed cellphone towers and fiber optic cables may also impact communication efforts between emergency response services. Decreased communication between emergency services will make it difficult to coordinate rescue efforts, placing trapped individuals at risk. This could provide terrorist organizations an opportunity to take advantage of downed communications and conduct an attack. Additionally, it is likely that with downed cellphone towers and fiber optic cables, individuals may not receive critical emergency updates such as evacuation notices, placing them at further risk of being injured and not being rescued.

  • With heavy rain and flooding, several critical infrastructures including roads, highways, and dams were destroyed. The destruction and blockage of roads and highways may impact emergency response rescue efforts. Additionally, the destruction of roads and highways will make it difficult for displaced people to leave flooded areas, as well as provide aid to impacted areas. This could potentially mean individuals will have to remain in flooded areas until standing water is removed, which could make individuals vulnerable to potential hazards.

  • The destruction of dams could place additional areas at risk, which may result in further evacuations. Shelters could become overcrowded, which can impact current COVID-19 efforts since a massive influx of migrants could spread the virus and its variants. With destroyed dams, more rainfall could exacerbate the current situation. Also, dam failures will need to be repaired which may require a lot of time, money, and effort, which may be difficult due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Individuals traveling back into Germany will not be able to return to their homes until the flooding is under control because transportation has been halted. This will inhibit them from assessing the damages and making repairs until the country is safe. If several parts of the country are reconstructing their homes, this may impact the resources available which could cause delays especially since it is likely that products will not be able to get shipped from foreign countries. This could cause individuals to seek humanitarian aid for safe shelter while they are repairing their homes. This may negatively impact the economy if a large majority of the population must rely on government aid. It is likely the government may have to prioritize who gets the aid and how much, which could result in a delayed response.

  • Flooding could cause contamination from the sewers that could impact the cleanliness of drinking water. Individuals may become sick which could affect the struggling healthcare system since the residents are likely drinking the same water and would need to seek medical assistance. The polluted water may get into the soil which could contaminate the plants that may be used for food. Animals that drink the floodwater could also be infected. It is possible that animals could contract illnesses from standing water, which may be transmitted to humans.

  • The heavy rains throughout Germany have caused flooding to occur in neighboring states such as France, the Netherlands, and Belgium. This may become a recurring problem in the future if the international community does not take action against the ongoing consequences of climate change. It is highly likely that extreme weather events such as heavy rain and flooding will increase, resulting in the destruction of critical infrastructure, property, and loss of life. This has the potential to increase the threat of terrorist attacks since various states will be preoccupied with rescue operations and rebuilding efforts.

[1]High Water in Miesenheim July 15th 2021 019” by Andreas Jake licensed under Creative Commons

[2] Germany mounts huge rescue effort after floods leave dozens dead and many more missing, CNN, July 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/15/europe/germany-deaths-severe-flooding-intl/index.html

[3] Ibid.

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