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France

Floods in France and Germany linked to climate change

media The feet of the Zouave statue on the Pont de l'Alma are covered by the rising waters from the Seine River after days of rainy weather in Paris, France, June 2, 2016 as the Zouave statue is considered an indicator of the level of the Seine. Reuters/Pascal Rossignol

Paris was placed on orange flood alert - the second highest - Thursday, as water levels the River Seine rose and rain continued to fall on France. Floods that have hit France, Germany and Austria have submerged streets, closed schools and left people stranded on rooftops over the last six weeks. Experts say that climate change is the cause of the unpredictable and often devastating weather.

The rain and floods are due "to climate, and we have to get used to it, but also to us humans, settling into areas that we shouldn't live," climate risk expert Jeroen Aerts told RFI.

The last six days of torrential rain have caused the Seine and other rivers to burst their banks - this forced the evacuation of thousands of people in riverside towns south of Paris and in the Loire Valley.

The floods are also affecting Germany, where eight people have died in the south of the country. Dangerously swollen rivers have caused loss of life and severely damaged towns in Bavaria.

French state forecaster Météo France has described the situation as "exceptional and worse than the floods of 1910", when even central Paris was flooded.

New 1910 unlikely

At the time, the water reached its maximum height at 8.62 metres at the Austerlitz bridge, some six metres above its normal level. Central Paris remained under water for 10 days, causing heavy damage to buildings and monuments.

Floods on the Seine

However, with the Seine peaking at 5.0 meters yesterday, such a scenario seems unlikely today.

"It’s not at all the same situation - in 1910 there had been a long build-up with a very wet autumn starting in September 1909," explains Simon Carrage a flood risk specialist at the management and planning institute of the Île-de-France region. "There had been four months of regular rainfall that saturated the soils. The entire Seine watershed overflowed. Now we’re only seeing small floods, with dramatic situations locally, but it doesn’t impact the entire Seine."

Earlier this week, Météo France noted that May 2016 had been the rainiest month since 1886.

"These events, even though they are there, can occur at any given time," says Laurens Bouwer, an expert in climate change impacts at Deltares. But they fit the pattern that we expect with global warming where we see more intense rainfall events. With increasing temperatures, we see higher temperatures and more rainfall."

More climate hazards to come

According to a study published last April, Europe could face multiple and more frequent climate hazards of this type in the coming decades.

"The frequency of severe flooding across Europe is set to double by 2050," wrote British newspaper The Independent at the time.

"The thing is, apart from a change in climate, the biggest fault comes from ourselves," argues Jeroen Aerts, who is the director of the water and climate risk department at the Insitute for Environmental studies in Amsterdam.

"Why is there so much damage in France and Germany? It's not only a heavy precipitation event but also because, if you compare the situation of the two countries to 100 years ago, there are many more people and buildings in vulnerable areas."

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