Ein, Zwei, Dry: The German City Where Water Has Run Out

Firefighters of the Lauenau Volunteer Fire Brigade in Germany tapping fire water from the tank of one of their emergency vehicles.
Firefighters of the Lauenau Volunteer Fire Brigade in Germany tapping fire water from the tank of one of their emergency vehicles.
Sonja Stössel

BERLIN — Germans are feeling the heat. For almost a week now, temperatures have been over 86 °F (30 °C) in most of the country, and every day a local council pleads with its residents not to fill up their paddling pools again. Last weekend, authorities asked residents of Lauenau in Lower Saxony to buy bottled drinking water because the reservoir that serves the town's 4,000-strong population had run dry. Anyone who wanted to flush their toilet had to take their containers to the fire station and fill them up.

Is increased demand during the pandemic-struck summer overwhelming water supply? No, says Martin Weyand, director of water supply at the German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW). "Overall, the supplies of drinking water are sufficient. There is no water shortage in Germany." He does not expect widespread problems like those in Lauenau.

But hot summers have an impact on water demand. According to the BDEW, the average German uses around 122 liters of water a day — "uses," says Weyand, "not ‘consumes."" He stresses that the water stays in circulation. During the record-breaking heatwaves of 2018 and 2019, water usage was significantly higher, around 127 and 125 liters per person respectively.

During heatwaves, demand rises by between 40 and 60%, which can overwhelm a system designed to cope with lower, more consistent usage. It means residents have to hold off on watering gardens or filling pools to give the reserves time to refill and secure the supply of drinking water, which is the top priority.

Hot summers have an impact on water demand.

This year, the pandemic is making more people work from home, which also increases private water usage. Many are also enjoying staycations instead of going to the coast, which has had unforeseen consequences for water supply — filling up large paddling pools requires a lot of water all at once. "This summer is an exceptional situation; it's a challenge for the system," says Weyand.

On Tuesday, residents of smaller villages around Lauenau were asked not to water their gardens, fill pools or wash their cars. In the north-western town of Borgholzhausen, in the district of Gütersloh, the authorities even closed the local swimming pool so that the water tank serving a retirement home could be refilled.

The little boy refreshes himself with cold water from the garden hose in Pokrent, Germany. — Photo: Jens BüTtner/DPA/ ZUMA Press

Could the BDEW not have anticipated this problem? Weyand says that sudden spikes in demand, like those seen over the last three years, pose a particular problem. Places that use a spring discharge system, as Lauenau does, are especially vulnerable during heatwaves. The area relies on three surface-level water sources in the Deister hills. These provide clean, nitrate-free water, but they are highly dependent on the weather, meaning supplies can dry up. Weyand says that local authorities should put in place back-up supplies so they can draw on reserves during dry periods. In Lauenau, the mayor has now pronounced the situation manageable thanks to a combination of supply from a neighboring water board in Nord-Schaumburg and residents temporarily halving their water usage.

The current problem in Germany is not a shortage but a distribution issue. In 1990, Germans were each using about 147 liters of water a day. Since then, many sources and waterworks have been abandoned, but these could be reactivated to meet increased demand. Cooperation between local water boards, as seen in Lauenau, could also be used more often as a temporary solution.

"If temperatures continue to rise, we will have to be more careful about how we use our resources," says Weyand. Building on and paving green land prevents groundwater from collecting under the land's surface.

The current problem in Germany is not a shortage but a distribution issue.

The build-up of nitrates is also a problem across Germany, especially for water sources near agricultural land. Some sources have even been abandoned because of high nitrate levels in the water. According to the EU, Germany has the lowest water quality in Europe, with nitrate levels far above the recommended limits. "This is a problem that affects all of society," says Weyand, calling for drinking water to be treated as a priority.

But there is still some good news for those who want to avoid crowded public swimming pools during the heatwave. Weyand says many parts of Germany are experiencing no issues with the water supply at all. So in Berlin, Hamburg and many other cities, Germans can fill up their paddling pools with a clear conscience.

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Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.


David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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