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Flooding in Cologne

Flooding in Cologne
Source: dpa

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Cologne under water

When it's fermented at a strength of 4.8%, the amber liquid is well received in Cologne. Not so the bulletfilthy brew swashing through the streets on 30 May 1983. With the Rhine at a high mark of 9.96 metres, the city suffers its worst flooding in fifty years.

The row between North Rhine-Westphalia and other, upstream, states seems to have "swelled up" as regularly as the river. While high water up there just means "high", down here - with the help of some heavy rain - it means "too high", and whoosh! The Rhine bursts its banks and floods Cologne.

The causes are clear: a failure of upriver states to open emergency sluice gates in time; water engineering projects which cut out the natural meanders to speed up shipping; river bed levelling to strengthen banks; the sealing over of soil surfaces in the catchment area causing faster run-off.

So all it needs is prolonged heavy rain or a fast snow-melt - and, whoosh!, you've got a flood alarm. The rivers teaches us that nature can't be regulated. The landscape has been built over without regard for the natural flood plains.

The emergency dams can only hold back so much water from the towns and cities. Overflow basins have been prepared in upstream states, but they are far too reluctant to use them. Federal selfishness - my state comes first, after me the deluge!

Dirk Bitzer

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