Europe's flood part of global deluge
Flooding has claimed 94 lives in the past week and a half, and historic Prague is under threat.
At 4 a.m. Wednesday, firemen began banging on doors in Prague's medieval Old Town, forcing families and shop owners to flee to higher ground. The streets filled with frightened people carrying bundles, a sight unseen here since World War II. Several residents fought against the forced evacuation, hoping to save some of their belongings.Skip to next paragraph
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The Czech Republic is the latest country hit in a season of torrents and torment in Europe. Heavy rains and flooding have also paralyzed parts of Slovakia, Italy, Spain, Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, and Ukraine. Austria has been declared a disaster area. The floods have claimed 94 lives in the past week and a half, 59 of them in flash floods in southern Russia.
As they watch their homes and businesses drown, some in Europe worry that these floods are the result of climate changes induced by man. In Asia, torrential rains in China have killed 900 people this year. In North and South Korea, Vietnam, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, floods have claimed another 700 lives in the past month.
"Rainfall is becoming more intense," says Prof. Phil Jones of the Climactic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, a prominent European meteorological institution. "This is not a [natural] cycle."
While in the United States the scientific community is split between those who believe unnatural climate change is occurring and those who don't, in Europe experts tend to agree in the view that the global climate is undergoing massive changes and that human activities and industry play a large role.
But whether global warming is a clear culprit in the most recent flooding is a subject of debate, even among the Europeans.
"Undeniably, people are responsible for this disaster," says Martin Kravcik of People and Water, a Slovak nongovernmental environmental think tank. "Central Europe is experiencing droughts in spring and fall and extreme rains in summer. Summer rains are expected to increase by 20-30 percent by 2010. This will cause catastrophic floods."
But many scientists urge caution in jumping to conclusions. "We believe that climate change will happen in the next 50 to 80 years and it will be mostly the result of human activities," says Sean Clarke, meteorologist at the Met Office, the British government's weather agency. "It is possible that we are already seeing some of the effects, but it is impossible to know for sure."
Already, the flooding is reviving European calls for implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, which would set limits on the industrial emissions believed to cause global warming. Ratified by many European countries, the treaty was rejected by President Bush last year. European environmentalists say they will take the story of this year's floods to the Earth Summit in Johannesburg this month as further evidence that the protocol should be implemented.
Deforestation is also being cited as a factor in exacerbating the effects of the floods because it makes the soil less able to absorb water.