‘The New Normal’: How Europe is being hit by a climate-induced drought crisis | Drought

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Europe’s worst drought in decades is hitting homes, factories, farmers and goods across the continent, as experts warn drier winters and scorching summers fueled by global warming mean water shortages will become “the new normal”.

The EU’s European Drought Observatory calculated that 45% of the bloc’s territory was under drought warning in mid-July, with 15% already on red alert, prompting the European Commission to warn of a “critical” situation in several regions.

Conditions have since deteriorated as repeated heat waves sweep across the continent. In France, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne activated a crisis unit last week to deal with a drought that Météo-France described as the worst in the country since records began in 1958.

More than 100 French municipalities do not have running drinking water and are supplied by truck, said Minister for the Green Transition Christophe Béchu, adding: “We will have to get used to episodes of this type. Adaptation is no longer an option, it is an obligation.

With the lowest surface soil moisture on record and July rainfall 85% below normal, water restrictions, including watering and irrigation bans, are in place in 93 out of 96 continental regions of the country. departmentsincluding 62 classified as “in crisis”.

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Amid rising food prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, France’s agriculture minister has warned that the corn harvest is likely to be more than 18% lower than that of last year, while farmers’ unions say a shortage of fodder for livestock following the drought could lead to major milk shortages in autumn and winter.

Electricity utility EDF was forced last week to cut production at one of its nuclear reactors in southwestern France due to high water temperatures in the Garonne, and issued several similar warnings for reactors along the Rhone.

Spainwater reserves are at a historic low of 40% and have been declining at a rate of 1.5% per week due to a combination of increased consumption and evaporation, the government says , in what is probably the driest in the past 60 years.

The country has received less than half of the rainfall predicted for the time of year over the past three months, with restrictions in place from Catalonia in the northeast to Galicia in the northwest as well as western Extremadura and Andalusia to the south.

Firefighters at work in the village of A Cañiza in the Galicia region of Spain. According to the European Forest Fire Information System, this is the worst year of forest fires in the country in 30 years. Photograph: Sxenick/EPA

Most water restrictions have been imposed on domestic users, with rural authorities often reluctant to curb the often illegal exploitation by farmers of an increasingly scarce resource when agriculture accounts for nine-tenths of the Spain’s water consumption.

A post-pandemic tourism revival has also led to consumption increases of up to 10% in cities like Barcelona, ​​where – if there is no rainfall soon and none is expected – restrictions should be imposed. be imposed next month.

“Climate change studies warn that droughts are going to be more intense, more frequent and longer,” said Nuria Hernández-Mora, co-founder of New Water Culture. “This is going to be the new normal, and yet we continue to endorse the increased use of a resource that we don’t have and which is becoming scarce.”

This year is also expected to become the hottest and driest on record in Italy. “I no longer know what we need to do to make the climate crisis a political issue,” said Luca Mercalli, president of the Italian Meteorological Society.

“No similar data over the past 230 years compares to the drought and heat we are experiencing this year. Then we had thunderstorms…These episodes are increasing in frequency and intensity, just as predicted by the climate records of the Last 30 years. Why do we keep waiting to make it a priority?”

One of the most important manifestations of the crisis is the dried up Po river. The flow of Italy’s longest river has fallen to a tenth of the usual figure, while its water level is 2 meters below normal. The government declared a drought emergency in five northern regions, rationing drinking water, in early July. The villages around Lake Maggiore are supplied by truck.

With no sustained rainfall in the region since November, risotto rice production in the Po Valley, which accounts for around 40% of Italian agricultural production, is at risk. Farmers have warned that up to 60% of the harvest could be lost as the paddy fields dry up and become salty, with record low water levels allowing more seawater to enter the delta.

A photo taken last month with a drone shows the dry bed of the Po river between Parma and Reggio Emilia in Italy.
A photo taken with a drone shows the dry bed of the Po river between Parma and Reggio Emilia, Italy, in mid-July. Photography: Andrea Fasani/EPA

The crisis is not limited to southern Europe. Water levels have also fallen to dangerous levels on the Rhine, a vital waterway in northwest Europe used to transport oil, gasoline, coal and other raw materials that connects Germanyindustrial heart of to the main ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp.

On Monday, the river level was already lower than at the same time in 2018, when a severe drought finally halted freight transport for 132 days. Some ships are operating at 25% capacity to avoid running aground, driving up freight costs.

Drought has hit German waterways just as freight ships are expected to transport increased amounts of coal to fuel power stations that Chancellor Olaf Scholz has reactivated in the face of Russia’s curbing natural gas deliveries .

An inland waterway boat navigates the Rhine as the partially dried up river bed is seen in the foreground in Düsseldorf, western Germany.
An inland waterway boat navigates the Rhine as the partially dried up river bed is seen in the foreground in Düsseldorf, western Germany. Photograph: Ina Fassbender/AFP/Getty Images

In the capital, Berlin, authorities have recorded falling water levels in the many lakes fed by the Spree River. In the southern city of Nuremberg, parched urban trees are watered from closed municipal indoor pools to save gas.

In Swissthe dairy industry was the hardest hit: the authorities in Fribourg, Jura and Neuchâtel had to open up valley meadows that are not usually used for grazing until September, as the high pastures were already too dry.

Dominique de Buman, president of the Friborg cheese cooperative, told Le Temps newspaper that cheese and milk production risked being affected. “We can predict a fall and we can even end up with a shortage of Gruyère cheese,” he said.

In the canton of Obwalden near Lucerne, the army had to be called in to transport water by helicopter from Lake Sarnen to the thirsty cows in the village of Kerns.

The Netherlands officially declared a water shortage last week. The government has yet to put in place restrictions on household consumption, but has asked people to carefully consider whether they should wash their cars or completely fill a paddling pool.

In the neighbor BelgiumMeanwhile, forecasters reported the driest July since 1885. Despite farmers being banned from pumping water for crops, groundwater levels in Flanders are unusually low, causing the drying up bogs, raising concerns for wildlife, including snipe.

Canals and rivers are also in poor condition: local authorities report that many fish have died because the only water left in some waterways is industrial effluent or sewage. Thirteen municipalities in the Ardennes have banned the filling of swimming pools.

Scientists have said that the worsening climate could soon lead to frequent summer droughts in Western Europe, with bouts of extreme heat that once occurred once a decade and happened every two or three years, unless governments around the world drastically reduce carbon emissions.

Reporting by Stephen Burgen in Barcelona, ​​Angela Giuffrida in Rome, Philip Oltermann in Berlin and Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

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