Fires and drought pose risks in North-Rhine Westphalia

Forest and field fires have broke out in several parts of North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW) over the past few days, threatening vegetation and wildlife.

Fires and drought pose risks in North-Rhine Westphalia
Stones lie on the dry banks of the Rhine. Photo: DPA

While the German Weather Service (DWD) said on Wednesday that the fire risk is now decreasing, the state still has issued the second highest possible fire warning through the weekend, and continues to grapple with drought.

“It has rained a little bit but it has only been a drop in the bucket,” Friedrich Louen from Fire and Wood NRW told the Rheinische Post.

The number of days with temperatures reaching 25 degrees or more in NRW, the most populous state in Germany, has been over the yearly average.

On Monday and Tuesday, several fires broke out throughout the state, including a large field fire along the autobahn between the towns of Erkelenz and Hückelhoven near the Dutch border that led to parts of the road being temporarily closed off due to the smoke.

A larger fire broke out by Haltern am See near Münster on Monday, affecting around 10,000 square metres of forest grounds and wheat fields. The city of Moers near Duisburg banned barbecues in parks, after two minor fires also started in a meadow.

Even in areas not yet affected by fire, drought is harming the vegetation, according to Louen. Younger trees have roots which often run 20 centimetres deep and dry out quickly.

The dry summer weather is also threatening the fish in NRW. “We must reckon with a visible death of fish,” Olaf Niepagenkemper from the North Rhine-Westphalian Fisheries Association told the Rheinische Post. “The situation is dramatic. And it could get even worse if it stays so warm.”

The persistently high temperatures are heating up the waters, leading oxygen levels in lakes to decrease and threatening fish.

“Waters bordering on agricultural land are particularly affected,” said Niepagenkemper. “Manure is also repeatedly discharged into the lakes, which leads to a further decrease in oxygen.”

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Why are some parts of Germany still not vaccinating people in their 60s?

Germany has no doubt accelerated its vaccine rollout. But despite the progress, some people in priority groups - such as the over 60s - are still not getting their jab in some parts of the country.

Why are some parts of Germany still not vaccinating people in their 60s?
People queuing at a a special vaccination campaign at the Ditib Central Mosque in the Ehrenfeld district of Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Henning Kaiser

After a painfully slow start, Germany ramped up its vaccination campaign, breaking European records on the number of shots administered to people in one day.

Yet despite all of this, there appears to be a lottery on where things are moving quicker in the country.

Now as Germany gets ready to lift the priority list on June 7th – meaning that all adults will be able to apply for a vaccine appointment, no matter their age, health condition or job – there are worries that not all members of risk groups are being vaccinated.

Although Dortmund, in North Rhine-Westphalia, has opened up vaccination appointments for priority group 3, people aged 60-69, who are also in this group, are not able to book an appointment at a vaccination centre.

They have been invited to “special vaccination” drives using the AstraZeneca vaccine on certain days in April and May but according to Dortmund’s city vaccination plan, this offer has now ended. They were generally available on a first-come-first-served basis and ran out quickly.

“As soon as further vaccine for this group is made available, further appointments may be booked,” says the plan.

Dortmund city’s vaccination plan shows that over 60s in priority group 3 are currently not able to make an appointment. Screenshot from

That’s the case despite over 60s being able to access a vaccine in many other parts of the country, including Berlin and Baden-Württemberg.

The Local Germany reader Richard, who is 65 and has lived in the Dortmund area since 1999, said he was concerned that people in this age group were being forgotten.

Although priority groups should be able to book a vaccine appointment with their GP, or another doctor, many GPs are not carrying out vaccinations or giving out appointments. 

Richard said his doctor told him it wasn’t possible for him to make a vaccination appointment until mid-June when everyone can apply.

“I have followed the requirements and requests of the government in patiently waiting my turn, but with this opening up of applications to everyone on June 7th, I feel that my being a good citizen and not trying to jump the queue as many people have has been thrown back in my face,” he told The Local.

Richard said he is keen to get a jab soon as he suffered from severe bronchial asthma until he was 14 which means he still gets shortness of breath when he catches a cold. Furthermore he suffers from panic attacks and works in the live music business which may require full immunisation for travel when it gets back on track.

A person receiving a vaccine in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

“It seems that many Germans think that the healthy 60+ category is already being inoculated, but in Dortmund that is simply not the case; as of this morning, it is still not allowed to book an appointment.

“With under three weeks until the doors are thrown wide open, I am really concerned that I and every healthy fair-minded 60+ person are now being forgotten.”

The Local contacted the North Rhine-Westphalia health office for a comment.

Why is there such a lottery when it comes to getting the vaccine in Germany?

Despite a clear acceleration of vaccine delivery in Germany, there are still people who belong to ‘risk’ priority groups who have not been vaccinated yet.

Other readers of The Local have also reported that they’ve struggled to find information or get an appointment even though they qualify for a shot.

This could be down to bureaucratic failures in states or local regions when trying to secure appointments. It’s also not particularly helpful that each area in Germany has a different way of doing things, and processes change at short notice.

The vaccine rollout in Berlin is different to neighbouring Brandenburg, and so on.

Another factor is the behaviour of people. It appears you are more likely to get a vaccine if you push for it, or have the time and resources to contact lots of different doctors – but Health Minister Jens Spahn has urged people not to put pressure on medical staff.

You might know a person with a contact for a vaccinating doctor, or you might be lucky enough to receive an appointment from your own doctor, be it a GP or a specialist. 

This points to a long-standing problem with Germany’s organisation of the vaccine rollout: it isn’t very logical, and a lot of it depends on luck.