Germany urges people to store staples in case of terrorism, national emergency

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany has told its citizens to stock up on water and food in the event of a terrorist attack or national catastrophe and be ready to support the military in the country’s first overhaul of civil defenses for two decades.

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Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet approved the 70-page plan at a time when Germans are particularly on edge after two Islamist militant attacks in July and several much larger-scale, deadly assaults in France and Belgium this year.

The German word for stocking up on provisions in case of an emergency is “Hamsterkaeufe” and some media have mocked the plan for encouraging Germans to hoard like the small, furry animals.

Although the plan was commissioned in 2012, security is shaping up into a major campaign issue before two regional votes next month and next year’s federal election. Proposed measures include boosting spending on police and a ban on the burqa, the all-concealing garment worn by some Muslim women.

The strategy unveiled on Wednesday outlines precautionary steps for scenarios such as terrorism and chemical weapons and cyber attacks.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere rejected suggestions that the report, last published in 1995, was scaremongering and said it was not linked to an immediate threat.

“It is responsible politics to prepare appropriately, with a cool head, for catastrophe scenarios even if the likelihood of them occurring is improbable,” he told reporters.

The plan recommends Germans buy five days’ worth of water and 10 days’ worth of food in the event of a national crisis. It also outlines the need for a more extensive alarm system to alert people when there is an emergency, improved protection for buildings and medical care.

Civilians should also be ready to help the military with tasks such as directing traffic, finding accommodation and providing fuel. The report also raises the possibility of reintroducing conscription in the case of national emergency.

That idea has caused controversy in Germany, which suspended compulsory military service only in 2011.

“Conscription must not be brought back, there is no reason to do that, it is absolute nonsense,” Social Democrat lawmaker Eva Hoegl told rbb radio.

Asked about it at a news conference, a defense ministry spokesman said there were no plans to reintroduce conscription.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers and Thorsten Severin; editing by Mark Heinrich