Scientists blamed for diluvian disaster

August 15, 1997

The disastrous flooding in the Oder Basin in Poland and Germany was not the fault of the Czechs, who opened their reservoirs, or of a wrathful God, but the responsibility of Polish scientists, according to politicians from one of the worst-hit regions.

Heads of the Opole province have publicly blamed Polish scientists, claiming that the institute of meteorology and water management failed to give timely warnings about the flooding.

Institute chiefs, however, have vehemently denied responsibility. The first unofficial reaction from institute staff was to shift the blame back to the authorities, asking how they were supposed to give prompt and proper warnings when funding for research has been continuously eroded.

But Ryszard Klejnowski, director of the institute, maintains that proper warnings were given. The institute, he says, had kept the governor of Opole and his flood emergency committee informed of the dangerously high rainfall and the rising water levels of the Oder from July 4 onwards.

"All available information was passed on. And if the governor thinks otherwise, then let him launch a prosecution for negligence," he said.

But Dr Klejnowski would not commit himself in response to claims that the forecast was 30 hours late.

The matter, he said, was being investigated, but was too serious for conclusions to be reached in a hurry.

In spite of the uncertainty, Dr Klejnowski's assertions that warnings were given but the authorities failed to act appeared to be supported by the dismissal of the deputy provincial commandant of police in Opole, reportedly for "lack of appropriate activities" during the period of greatest danger.

Meanwhile, the umbrella organisation of Poland's environmental groups, the Green Federation, has put forward its own explanation for the catastrophe.

Too many mountain rivers and streams had been artificially bedded without proper safeguards, and highland forests exploited without thought for the consequences, the group said.

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