Europe is facing its worst drought in at least 500 years, with two-thirds of the continent in a state of alert or warning, reducing inland shipping, electricity production and the yields of certain crops, a European Union agency said on Tuesday.
The August report of the European Drought Observatory (EDO), overseen by the European Commission, said 47% of Europe is under warning conditions, with clear deficit of soil moisture, and 17% in a state of alert, in which vegetation is affected.
“The severe drought affecting many regions of Europe since the beginning of the year has been further expanding and worsening as of early August,” the report said, adding that the western Europe-Mediterranean region was likely to experience warmer and drier than normal conditions until November.
Much of Europe has faced weeks of baking temperatures this summer, which worsened the drought, caused wildfires, set off health warnings, and prompted calls for more action to tackle climate change.
The current drought appeared to be the worst in at least 500 years, assuming final data at the end of the season confirmed the preliminary assessment, the Commission said in a statement.
Summer crops have suffered, with 2022 yields for grain maize set to be 16% below the average of the previous five years and soybean and sunflowers yields set to fall by 15% and 12% respectively.
Hydropower generation has been hit, with further impact on other power producers due to a shortage of water to feed cooling systems.
Low water levels have hampered inland shipping, such as along the Rhine, with reduced shipping loads affecting coal and oil transport.
The EDO said mid-August rainfall may have alleviated conditions, but in some cases it had come with thunderstorms that caused further damage.
The observatory’s drought indicator is derived from measurements of precipitation, soil moisture and the fraction of solar radiation absorbed by plants for photosynthesis.
Meanwhile, Britain will need to continue to manage water resources carefully over the coming months following the driest summer for 50 years and should begin planning now for potential water shortfalls in 2023, the National Drought Group said on Tuesday.
The group, made up of government officials, water companies, and environmental groups, said there was enough water for all essential household and business needs. Ten of the Environment Agency’s 14 areas in England are now in drought status.
“There is however a need to continue to manage water resources carefully over the coming weeks and months to ensure that the needs of the public, farmers and industry, and nature and wildlife are met,” the group said.
Drought was officially declared in parts of England earlier this month for the first time since 2018, and six water companies have now implemented hosepipe bans to help protect water supplies.
The National Drought Group said it had agreed to step up its work to help manage the drought, including by monitoring groundwater levels and carrying out irrigation patrols.
It said water levels in rivers, lakes, groundwaters and reservoirs could be replenished to normal levels by spring but precautionary planning should begin now on how to manage any water shortfalls in 2023 if there is a dry autumn or winter.
“Both for the coming year and, with the impact of climate change, for the coming decade, a complete gear change is needed for how water companies and all water users, from farmers to households, think about how they use water,” Environment Agency Chief Executive James Bevan said.
“This summer should be a wake-up call for how the nation prepares for weather extremes and how we make the very best use of our water resources.” (Reuters)