Dyke disaster

Dyke disaster AS EUROPE sticks its snorkel out of the muddy and deep waters of the continent's most devastating floods this century, the efficacy of its dykes comes under pained introspection. Cutting across the Netherlands, Germany, France and Belgium is a realisation that the continent's much-praised flood control practices may be soft in the head.

Though the European media have played up global warming as an explanaton a more widely accepted opinion says that reckless urbanisation, modern farming practices, unmitigated navigational expansions topped with faulty flood plain management are responsible.

According to some estimates, one-eighth of Germany lies beneath asphalt and concrete, and every day 90 more hectares is covered for streets and other purposes. Widespread deforestation has destroyed an effective natural sponge, while drainage ditches in farms lead to the removal of water from fields, siphoning it into rivers.

By straightening and channeling the Rhine, German engineers have boosted navigational traffic's capacity, but they have also made it a dangerous conduit for huge volumes of water flowing into western Germany. In the past 150 years, estimates say the Upper Rhine has lost 80 km of its bends. Melted Alpine snow now travels from the Swiss border to Karlsruhe in half the usual time.

Karlsruhe has paid the price quite dearly. Until 1977, there the Rhine rose 7.62 m above the flood level only 4 times in the century. Since then, the river has hit that very mark for 10 times. "This high water is partly humanmade. We've been raping nature for 40 years and we've got to change that," maintains Klaudia Martini, environment minister from Germany's Rhineland-Palatinate state.

But, in the Netherlands, the flood's fury has severely strained major dykes banking the river Waal leading to mass exodus by 250,000 people in the southern provinces of Gelderland and Limburg. The Dutch Greens have long been vociferous

Related Content