Switzerland spared - catastrophe in Germany

Water levels rose dangerously high in the Swiss capital, Bern. Keystone

Switzerland has narrowly avoided the devastating floods which have swept across neighbouring Germany.

This content was published on August 13, 2002

For the past week it has rained almost non-stop in Switzerland. But most of the damage appears to have occured "downstream" in Germany and Austria.

Although rivers remain close to bursting their banks, the situation is gradually easing. Damage to the countryside is widespread, but not as bad as in Germany and Austria, where the situation remains critical

Swiss insurance companies believe the rains have caused damage worth an estimated €1 billion in Austria.

In Germany, some 20 per cent of the country's crops have been destroyed, according Swiss Re, the world's second largest re-insurer.

Swiss Re., which insures insurance companies, believes global warming is to blame.

"The average global temperature has risen which has pushed up average humidity," Pamela Heck, a climate risk expert at the Zurich-based company, told swissinfo.

In Germany, disaster alarms have been alerted in Dresden and Bavaria where waters are reportedly rising.

At least one person has died, and three are missing.


In Switzerland, mountain areas are worst affected where two-thirds of the August average has already fallen.

But the lowlands have also had their fair share of the downpour - more than half of the August average had already fallen between the start of the month and last weekend.

"We've had really high amounts of precipitation over the last three days in the southern part of the country and in the Valais region," Gaudenz Truog, a forecaster at the Swiss Meteorological Office, told swissinfo.

Truog explained that between 40 and 80mm of rain had fallen in the valley and lowland areas with up to 120mm, or 120 litres per square metre in the Alps, falling as snow over 2,300 metres.

Lucky escape

But Truog says the country has had a lucky escape unlike some of its European neighbours, such as Austria, where there's widespread flooding around the Danube river.

"The heavy rain stopped just in time in Switzerland," he says. "The rivers were well on the way to becoming dangerous so we were very lucky."

Although more rain cannot be ruled out over the coming week, Truog says that it should stay dry until the weekend.

"We can expect a quiet week [on the rain front,]" he predicts. " It's a good development but beyond that who can say. It's impossible to give an accurate forecast for more than five days."

Waterlogged farms

The wet weather has had devastating effects on Swiss farmers, many of whom are fighting to save some of their crops.

"Below 600 metres the harvest is almost finished," Hubert Pauchard from canton Fribourg's agricultural monitoring office told swissinfo. "But above this level the cereal crops are ruined."

Western Switzerland's Three Lakes Region, which grows a lot of vegetables, has also been badly hit because the crops cannot survive for more than 24 hours in waterlogged conditions.

However, all is not lost as the potato and beetroot crops can tolerate the increased amount of water and grass crops used for animal fodder respond well to heavy rain.

Tourism wash-out?

It's not just farmers who are suffering, though. Many holiday-makers have been disappointed by the wet weather. However it's still to early to tell if the heavy rainfall has had a negative impact on Switzerland's lucrative tourist industry.

However, concessions have already been made. In some mountain resorts spas and indoor swimming pools have had to reduce their prices and some sports centres have put on special activity programmes for children.


Weather facts

Europe-wide deathtoll rises to at least 75 people, including 58 in Russia.
Up to 120 litres of rain has fallen per square metre.
Snowfall over 2,300 metres.
Rivers are swollen, especially the Aare, Thur and Rhine.
Better weather expected.

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In Brief

Up to two-thirds of August's average rainfall has already fallen in Switzerland leading to swollen waterways and increased risk of flooding. Mountain areas are worst affected, including the Bernese Oberland, Central Switzerland and Graubünden. Some mountain passes have been closed, but the main Rhine shipping lane in Basel has now been reopened.

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