The right channels

Flooding in Germany, flooding in France. Heavy rainfalls have flooded entire regions and many cities in the two European countries. The rainfall rates were so heavy in many places that the sewers were unable to drain off the surface water quickly enough.

Climate researchers have been warning for some time that such strong rain events will increase in western and central Europe. Accordingly, the sewer systems would with increasing frequency be required to handle large amounts of surface water within very short periods of time. It is therefore all the more surprising that sufficient investments have not been made in the construction and maintenance of underground channels.

In Germany, for example, investments in the entire underground construction segment have decreased considerably since the 1990s. In 2012, the German Federal Office of Statistics reported that a share of only 14.6 % of all construction investment in Germany went to this area. And only a portion of that goes toward sewer construction – while experts in the field draw attention to the fact that around 20 % of the German sewer network is more than 75 years old. We must ask whether the capacities of these sewer sections dating from the 1940s (!) will be able to handle the strong rain events, such as our most recent deluges.

In September, Germany will vote for its representatives in the Bundestag, the parliament, which will determine the coming government. The recent floods are a good argument for reminding party candidates of the urgency of investments in the sewer system. At least part of possible election gifts to the citizens might then actually go into the right channels.

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