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Europe battles water shortages as extreme drought sweeps the continent


In Obwalden, excessive within the Swiss Alps, the military has been drafted in to avoid wasting the cows.

With mountain streams within the Alpine nation drying up, navy helicopters had been dispatched final week to move big containers of water as much as the pastures from the lakes beneath, in an effort to forestall the herds from dying of thirst.

“In Switzerland we’re not used to the concept of droughts”, mentioned Sonia Seneviratne, professor of land-climate dynamics at ETH Zurich analysis college. “We see ourselves as being this water fortress of Europe, however as glaciers shrink and summer season temperatures turn into extra excessive that is much less and fewer a actuality.” 

The water shortages are a part of a extreme drought sweeping the continent from Portugal to japanese Europe and southern England to Italy. Scientists blame the mix of an unusually dry winter adopted by an equally dry spring and a summer season of baking warmth, a part of a warming pattern introduced on by local weather change.

A cow lays down in a drought-afflicted field in the Vue des Alpes mountain pass above La Chaux-de-Fonds, western Switzerland
The drought-hit Vue des Alpes mountain move above La Chaux-de-Fonds, western Switzerland © Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Photos

The drought and very excessive temperatures throughout Europe — France has been gripped by a 3rd heatwave of the summer season — are affecting households, business, transport and tourism, in addition to farming and agriculture. The tinder-dry floor additionally supplies excellent circumstances for the wildfires which have ravaged France, Portugal and others.

French prime minister Élisabeth Borne on Friday activated a particular disaster unit to deal with what she mentioned was the worst drought within the nation’s historical past. Of the 96 départements in European France, all however three have water restrictions in place and about two-thirds are labeled as in “disaster”, in line with the surroundings ministry.

Within the western Loire valley, cattle farmer Clément Traineau mentioned it was the worst that he or his 65-year-old father had ever skilled. The grass in his pastures has lengthy since withered because of the warmth and months with little or no rain, and the corn that will be used to feed his cows later within the yr had shrivelled in a sizzling wind that feels “like a hair dryer”. 

“It’s not simply the floor, the soil is dry deep down,” he defined. “The timber within the forests are dropping their leaves — it’s not fairly. It’s worse than 1976, which was the yr that everybody referred to.” 

An animated map of combined drought indicator for Europe for Julys from 2012 to 2022. It shows that 2022 has the most widespread soil moisture deficits in a decade

Scientists imagine summer season droughts may turn into the norm in western Europe — 4 of the previous 5 summers have been extraordinarily dry — because of the results of local weather change.

“An excessive warmth climate occasion that will have occurred as soon as each 10 years with out human induced local weather change is now occurring thrice each 10 years,” Seneviratne defined. “It’s potential that inside a decade, each different summer season can be like this, and this can worsen if we don’t cease carbon emissions.” 

The EU European Drought Observatory’s latest assessment reveals a map spattered with purple and orange to point that 13 per cent of the bloc’s territory was in extreme “alert” circumstances for the interval as much as July 10, and 45 per cent in “warning” territory — and the drought has worsened since.

Météo France, the French climate workplace, mentioned floor soil humidity throughout the nation was the bottom on document. July rainfall, at 9.7mm, was 85 per cent beneath the seasonal norm and the second driest month ever recorded, after March 1961. Western France was notably sizzling, with temperatures within the city of Biscarrosse reaching 42.6C final month, an area document.

“If there isn’t a vital rain earlier than the top of September, then there’s a threat of issues getting very troublesome,” mentioned Christian Huyghe, scientific director for agriculture at France’s nationwide institute of agronomic analysis.

A farmer stands in a corn field
A farmer assesses damages to his corn area as a consequence of a extreme drought in Spino d’Adda, Italy © Piero Cruciatti/AFP/Getty Photos

The Netherlands this week declared a nationwide water scarcity whereas authorities in Poland have launched restrictions on rivers, together with the Vistula, the nation’s longest, the place water ranges have dropped near document lows. In Warsaw, ferry companies throughout the Vistula had been suspended for every week final month due to the low stage of the water.

If water ranges on the Rhine fall by one other 7cm then lengthy stretches of one in every of Europe’s most essential industrial highways would turn into unnavigable for freight visitors. Water ranges on Lake Constance, western Europe’s second largest physique of freshwater by quantity, has been as low solely twice earlier than in recorded historical past — in 1949 and in 1876.

Some French nuclear energy stations have needed to scale back output due to environmental guidelines limiting the temperature of the waste water used for cooling that’s returned to rivers. The droughts has additionally decreased Europe’s hydroelectric energy technology, together with within the Alps.

Brussels estimated final yr that drought associated harm would price the EU about €9bn per yr, hovering to an annual €40bn if world warming was to achieve 3C. Temperatures have already elevated by at the least 1.1C since pre-industrial instances, in line with scientists.

The wreck of ship can be seen protruding from a riverbed
The wreck of the ship Elisabeth, which sank in 1895, has turn into seen because of the low water stage within the Rhine close to the Dutch-German border © Vincent Jannink/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Some Europeans have turned to the heavens for assist. In Cagnano, a hilltop village on the Umbria-Tuscany border of Italy, residents gathered final month to invoke St Vincent Ferrer, patron saint of winegrowers, to convey forth some a lot wanted rain.

“Throughout these troublesome drought days, his intercession earlier than God is essential,” priest Giorgio Mariotti mentioned in a message to the area people.

In northern France, Denis Bollengier felt the mud on his fingers as he picked potatoes from the dry earth on his farm within the village of Esquelbecq. “Usually after I do that my fingers come out muddy,” he mentioned, including that his annual crop might be halved this yr.

“We’re heading in direction of disaster,” he mentioned.

Victor Mallet in Paris, Sam Jones in Zurich, Akila Quinio in Esquelbecq, Raphael Minder in Warsaw, Silvia Sciorilli Borrelli in Milan and Alice Hancock in Brussels

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