Drought: the new great threat to Europe

By | April 30, 2023

Drought is becoming a political issue

It’s only spring and Europe is drying up. A key savings bank that serves millions of Catalans is shrinking. A conflict over water has sparked conflict in France, where many towns can no longer provide drinking water for their residents. And the flow in Italy’s largest river has already fallen to the lows it had last June.

More than a quarter of the continent has been in drought since April, with many countries bracing for a repeat, or worse, of last summer.

As Politico writes, citing a study using satellite data, Europe has been suffering from a severe drought since 2018. Rising temperatures are making the situation more difficult, leaving the continent locked in a dangerous cycle where water becomes increasingly ever more precarious.

“A few years ago I would have said that we have enough water in Europe,” said Torsten Mayer-Gürr, lead author of the study. “Now it looks like we might be in trouble.”

A rain will save us

While the rains expected in the coming weeks could refresh soils and help agriculture, they are not enough to cover groundwater shortages.

With the arrival of summer, governments are now scrambling to cope with current and future shortages, while also managing the tensions arising from increasing competition for water.

The drought, said last week the president of the Spanish Government, Pedro Sánchez, “will be one of the central political and territorial debates in our country in the coming years.”

winter drought

Last year’s historic drought depleted Europe’s surface and underground reserves.

Winter was supposed to bring relief. But many of the hardest-hit parts of the continent saw little rain or snow.

France, where it did not rain for more than 30 consecutive days in January and February, experienced its driest winter in 60 years.

Italy’s CIMA research institute found a 64% reduction in snowfall in mid-April. The Po level is already as low as last summer. Lake Garda is less than half of its average level.

The Sau reservoir, north of Barcelona, ​​has dropped so much that the authorities have decided to remove the fish so that they do not die and contaminate the water in the area. In the set

In Catalonia, the reservoirs amount to only 27%. And next week, Spain is facing an early heat wave.

Winter precipitation is crucial for Mediterranean countries in particular, said Fred Hattermann, a hydrologist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Vicious circle

For Europe to break the vicious cycle of starting each year with a significant groundwater deficit, “we would need almost a decade of heavy rainfall,” Hatterman warned.

The role of climate change

As Politico points out, it’s hard to predict rainfall over such long periods, especially as climate change alters rainfall patterns.

But even if rainfall levels remain the same, climate change will reduce water availability in all regions of Europe.

Drought is a complex phenomenon and many factors, such as mismanagement or excessive use of water, can play a role. However, rising temperatures are certain to put more pressure on Europe’s water supply.

Europe is slowly waking up to the threat.

Earlier this month, Italy issued a drought decree cutting red tape for water infrastructure, including desalination plants. Spain published a new set of water management plans in January.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s new national water management strategy aims to reduce total water consumption by 10% by the end of the decade. Under the plan, each sector will be asked to draw up proposals to reduce water use.

Germany’s strategy, approved in March, includes steps to make water use “sustainable” in 10 sectors by 2050, as well as a 78-meter plan to be implemented by 2030.

But critics argue that countries are doing too little to address the mismanagement of the resource, which continues to be rife across the continent, exacerbating the effects of reduced water availability. An estimated quarter of Europe’s drinking water is lost through leaky pipes, according to the industry.

water wars

Meanwhile, managing water and deciding who has access to it is becoming a political issue across the continent.

Last summer, restrictions on water use were imposed in the UK, France, Spain and Italy, raising questions about the prioritization of water use for tourism infrastructure, large industrial facilities and agriculture.

Some municipalities are already facing new restrictions; in others, they never rose. Catalonia recently imposed limits, including a mandatory 40% reduction in water consumption for agriculture.

In southern Germany, legal disputes over water have doubled in the last two decades. And in France, tensions between environmentalists and farmers over the construction of water dams last month sparked violent clashes.

Source: AT

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