Floods in Europe and the consequences of climate change

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With the water running low, authorities assess the destruction left by torrential rains that terrorized areas in the west and south of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands and killed more than 160 people

As catastrophic floods that swept the northwest of Europe last week were a warning that stronger dams, dikes and drainage systems are just as urgent as long-term prevention measures against climate changes, because weather events that were once rare are increasingly common.

With the water running low, authorities assess the destruction left by torrential rains that have terrorized areas in the west and south of Germany, Belgium e Holland, destroying buildings and bridges and killing more than 160 people.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who visited the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler on Monday, said the cost of reconstruction would reach billions of euros, in addition to the millions needed for emergency relief.

But the cost of designing and building better infrastructure to mitigate these events can be many times higher.

“We need to build new infrastructure — containment basins, dikes, overflow drainage areas — and strengthen sewage systems, dams and barriers,” said Lamia Messari-Becker, professor of Construction Technology and Physics at the University of Siegen.

“It’s a huge task. It’s the engineers’ turn.”

Drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are certainly needed, but they won’t significantly influence the climate, much less cool the planet, for decades.

Long before that, countries will need to adopt or build basic infrastructure that goes beyond water management, in agriculture, transport, energy and housing.

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