This month’s floods along the Danube and other Central European rivers could add up to the costliest weather-related disaster since 1999, with the cost to agriculture alone expected to exceed €1 billion. Farm groups representatives pressed EU negotiators to reach a final deal on the Common Agricultural Policy, arguing that its direct-payments scheme helps sustain farmers in times of climate uncertainty.
Credit Suisse AG estimates overall damage ranging from €3 billion to €5.8 billion due to rains and floods that hit Austria, the Czech Republic and Germany the hardest. In some places, the Danube, Inn and Ilz were four times their normal levels during the height of the flooding.
In addition to damaged homes and infrastructure, more than 400 farms in Germany reported crop losses and up to 20% of the vegetable crop was lost in the Czech Republic, which suffered its worst flooding since 2002.
The flooding was blamed for more than a dozen deaths.
In Luxembourg, EU farm ministers issued a statement late Tuesday (25 June) saying that the European Commission had "detailed the financial measures at the EU level which could be made available in this case, in particular the application of the EU solidarity fund [and] measures in the rural development fund."
Outside Central Europe, agricultural organisations reported major setbacks in wheat production due to flooding in Italy’s Umbria region, while weather-related problems in Ireland affected fodder production for livestock.
Farm groups representatives were quick to seize on the losses to press European negotiators to reach a final deal on the Common Agricultural Policy, arguing that its direct-payments scheme helps sustain farmers in times of climate uncertainty.
At a news conference on Monday in Luxembourg, Gerd Sonnleitner, president of Copa, which represents European farmers, referred to flood losses and other natural disasters in pressing for a new CAP. As he spoke, EU agricultural ministers were locked in negotiations with the European Parliament and Commission trying to work out policy differences by mid-week.
“Large parts of Europe are suffering and this is a good example of why European farming needs stability,” said Sonnleitner, who is also president of the German farm association Deutscher Bauernverband.
Some farmers have no cover
Martin Pýcha, president of the Czech Agricultural Association, said at least 50,000 hectares in the western province of Bohemia were affected by flooding along the Vltava and its tributaries.
Pýcha said government cost-saving measures cut insurance support for farmers. “Many farmers do not have flood insurance, so it is very serious this year,” he told EURACTIV.
Growing conditions in the Czech Republic, along with much of the region, were already less than optimal because a prolonged winter and soggy spring reduced the time farmers could plant their crops.
Because of the compact growing season and flooding, there is no time for a second planting of vegetables, sugar beet, maize and other crops once the fields dry.
Heavy rains in May contributed to the June flooding in Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany. Flooding also touched parts of Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.
The German state of Bavaria reported its worst flooding in 512 years, while in Saxony-Anhalt, it was the worst in 400 years of record-keeping.
In some cases, rescue personnel battling to spare towns from rising waterways were forced to breach levees and flood farms.
Insurance-related losses from the flooding would be the costliest weather-related damage since cyclone Lothar menaced Western and Central Europe in December 1999, causing the equivalent of €7.6 billion in damages, Credit Suisse said in an analysis published last week.
By contrast, Hurricane Sandy, whose high winds and heavy rain battered the northeast coast of the United States in November 2012, caused an estimated €21.5 billion in insurance-related losses.
EEA warning on climate disasters
EU officials have warned that such costly incidents could become more common.
On 5 June, as floodwaters swamped picturesque towns along the Danube, and threatened the 610-year-old Charles Bridge in central Prague, the European Environment Agency predicted a rise in extreme weather events due to climate change.
In a statement, “Flood risk in Europe: the long-term outlook”, the EU's environment body painted a picture of increased floods, storms and other meteorological events on the continent over the coming decades.
The EEA is clear about what it thinks the causes are.
“The observed increase in damage costs from extreme weather events is mainly due to land use change, increases in population, economic wealth and human activities in hazard-prone areas and to better reporting,” the EEA said in a statement.
A mix of hellish weather and prolonged dry spells in several EU countries in the summer of 2012 contributed to a global spike in food prices. The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation reported that food prices rose 6% overall in July, with maize soaring 23% and wheat up 19%.
The higher prices were mainly blamed on a devastating drought in the American heartland, drought and wildfires in parts of the EU and lower than expect wheat yields in Russia.
Prolonged dry spells have threatened parts of China, Russia, Australia, France, Spain, Portugal and the southern United States in recent years – affecting food output but also raising worries about the long-term stability of water supplies.