Czech Republic: Councils’ incompetence worsens floods devastation

At least one quarter of the Czech Republic was flooded last week after flash floods. 14 people died because of the disaster (some of them did not leave flooded houses, and one died when a boat was bombed by the authorities as a ‘safety preventative measure’). The fire fighters and other emergency workers did a huge amount of work – they really are heroes. Immediately after the floods started, they came from all over the country to help. The police mostly controlled areas to stop looting.

Local councils acted in a very chaotic manner. One day they said it will be "only" be a 20 years high flood, then that same afternoon they talked about a 50 years high and then, on the next morning they were forced to evacuate 10% of Prague, when the waters reached a 120-130 years high. Now they are blaming the hydro-meteorological office for wrong data. But it was the mistakes of the council authorities and their underestimation of the crisis that really made matters much worse.

The Prague Metro system was under water, and 17 stations were flooded (and this underground system was supposedly built as protection against nuclear war!) Now the transport company, DP, are blaming the architects, while the architects blame the building company. There will be a commission of inquiry it has been announced, but probably chief fault lies with the DP as they were far too slow to close the Metro.

The entire transport system in Prague is now in chaos, as the Metro trains used to run every three minutes. Now special trams are running every five minutes but they carry much less people than the Metro trains. It seems (officially) the Metro will only be repaired by Christmas. You can image how a city with lots of offices and small business will be affected, as many more commuters will take to driving cars. To make matters worse, in two weeks the new school year will start.

One part of Prague, Karlin, is really very badly affected by the floods. Water levels here reached 2-4 meters high. Until yesterday, people were not allowed to go there, as houses are deemed unsafe. In some places, even the roads were damaged by surface and underground water. Yesterday, special police units were despatched to shops and local homes in the area to clean the debris of rotten foods (you can image how food looked after 5 days without any electric energy and in hot summer).

In north Bohemia, in the north-west part of the Czech Republic, there were at least four chemical plants flooded by water – Spolana Neratovice, Kaucup Kralupy, Lovochemie Lovosice and Spolchemie Usti nad Labem.

Chlorine gas, in high concentration, escaped from the Spolana chemical factory north of Prague. The whole factory is under water, including mercury contaminated soil and stocks of highly toxic dioxins. The plant management refused to cooperate with even government officials during the crisis, let alone work with Greenpeace activists.

Agricultural areas around the Label (Elbe) were badly damaged by the deluge. It is estimated that for three years there will be no vegetable production as the land has been contaminated.

Some press reports have claimed that the damage could have been much less if there had been different action taken at the hydraulic stations on Vltava (Moldau), perhaps preventing the spilling over of reservoirs.

One week before the devastating floods there were smaller ones in the south of the country and reservoirs at the Vltava became almost full. Still the authorities did not order a release of water, the media has claimed.

Big problems arise from building in possible flood areas (the building departments of local councils are responsible), and the continuing destruction of nature, as forests and grasslands are changed to fields has worsened the situation.

Victims of floods need proper aid

For those affected most by the floods the situation is now very hard. The government has promised to give every person badly affected 30.000 Kc (around 1,000 Euros), to every family without a home (a house or private flat) 150.000 Kc (5,000 Euros), and for relatively low rates they can apply to borrow 850.000 Kc (28,000 Euros). But many people with completely destroyed flats have not been properly informed about their benefits entitlements.

The floods will devastate some small shopkeepers as well as some small business people. Their employees are being sacked and are receiving no help.

Socialistická alternativa Budoucnost (CWI section in the Czech Republic) is producing literature on the floods crisis. We offer advice to workers who are under attack by bosses that want to exploit the situation to sack them or to extend their work hours (the transport industry etc.) without extra pay. To save money, the government and bosses play on the natural mood to show human solidarity in a time of great crisis. Many young people, mostly from middle class backgrounds, have volunteered to help in the worst flooded areas.

Socialistická alternativa Budoucnost is helping tenants, informing them about their rights. We also call for the Assembly of Tenants, which has close links to the Social Democrats and Communist Party, to fight for new flats for all people affected.

As well as highlighting the incompetence of councils and authorities during and after the floods, we explain the consequences of global warming as one of the reasons for flash floods. We point out the enormous environmental damage caused previously by Stalinism and, in the last decade, by the re-introduction of capitalism.

The EU has claimed it will "immediately help" the Czech Republic with money, but only to repair the infrastructure. This is clearly connected with market/profit system.

Under big pressure, the Prague transport system is presently operating without charges. There has also been a temporary cut in fares on the railways.

As always, during these sort of catastrophes real solidarity is shown by working people rather than from big companies (in Decin, the local Tesco supermarket was the first store to open after the floods, just to make quick profits and without any consideration of danger people faced by shopping in what was still an officially ‘closed area’).

The floods will be used as an excuse by the government to introduce more cuts packages. This will not prevent lavish spending on an upcoming ‘NATO Summit’ in partially destroyed Prague in November.

There will be a very difficult situation for many people ("We are all damaged", is a popular phrase at the moment). Socialistická alternativa Budoucnost did not escape the consequences of the floods either. The water inside our offices reached 0.5 meters, and a table, notice board and chairs were destroyed.

The issues around the floods will deepen the general disillusionment with government policies and distrust in the system. We explain that the only possible way to fundamentally change things is through re-building and/or building trade unions, through the politisation of the workers’ movement, for a workers’ list and/or workers’ party to be formed, re-establishing socialist ideas on a widespread scale.

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August 2002