Southern Europe is bracing for a summer of intense drought due to climate change, with some areas already facing water shortages and farmers expecting their worst harvest in decades.
As climate change makes the region hotter and drier, years of repeated drought have depleted groundwater reserves. The soil is completely dry in Spain and the south of France. Low water levels in rivers and reservoirs threaten electricity production.
With temperatures rising during the summer, scientists warn that Europe is headed for another particularly hot summer. Last year was already the hottest on record, exacerbating the region’s drought, which EU researchers have described as the worst in 500 years.
So far this year, Spain is facing the worst situation. “The drought situation will get worse this summer,” warned Jorge Olsina, a geography professor at the University of Alicante in Spain.
Also, there is no chance that the rains that may occur now will solve the drought problem. “At this time of year, the only thing we can have are regular and localized storms, which will not solve the problem of lack of rain,” Olsina said.
Asking the EU for help, Spain’s Agriculture Minister Luis Planas stressed that “the situation created by this drought is so serious that its effects cannot be addressed with national resources alone,” according to a letter he sent to the European Commission on April 24.
climate change and drought
Southern Europe is not the only region in the world facing water scarcity. The Horn of Africa faces its worst drought in decades, while Argentina’s record drought has affected soybean and corn production.
The more frequent and severe droughts in the Mediterranean region, where the average temperature is 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than 150 years ago, is a consequence of climate change, which scientists have predicted. However, despite the warnings, proper preparation has not been done. Many rural areas have not yet adopted water saving methods.
“Governments have lagged behind. Companies are lagging behind,” said Robert Vautard, a scientist and director of the Pierre-Simon Laplace Institute. “Some companies are not even thinking about changing their consumption model, they are just trying to find some technology miraculous that it carries water,” he added.
France has just experienced its driest winter since 1959, with “crisis” drought warnings already issued in four regions, according to the Propluvia government website.
Portugal is also facing an early drought. About 90% of the country suffers from drought, and a severe drought affects one fifth of the country, an area almost five times larger than last year.
In Spain, the rainfall registered this year in April was below half the average. Thousands of people depend on water tanker deliveries, while some regions, such as Catalonia, have already imposed restrictions on water use. Some farmers have reported crop losses of up to 80%, with grains and oilseeds being the most affected.
“This is the worst crop loss in decades,” said Pekka Pessonen, president of the European agricultural union Copa-Cogeca, referring to Spain. “The situation is worse than last year,” he admitted. Half of the European production of olives and a third of the fruit comes from Spain, according to the Commission.
With the water reservoirs at an average of 50% of their capacity, the Spanish Government has announced that it will allocate more than 2,000 million euros to deal with emergencies. In addition, he is awaiting a response from the European Commission to his request to mobilize a crisis fund of 450 million euros from the bloc’s budget for agricultural subsidies.
The Commission is closely monitoring the situation
“The severe drought in southern Europe is particularly worrying not only for farmers there, but also because it could increase consumer prices, which are already very high, if European production is significantly reduced,” said Miriam García Ferrer, Commission spokesperson.
Italy may also face similar problems, where up to 80% of the country’s water reserves are used for agriculture. Italian farmers plan to reduce their crops, planting an area 6% less than last year, according to national data.
After two years of water scarcity, parts of northern Italy began May with a 70% deficit in water reserves due to melting ice and a 40% deficit in soil moisture, according to Luca Broca, director of the Italian National Research Council.
Because the soil is so dry, when it rains it cannot absorb it, which can have disastrous consequences. Indicatively, at least five people died in the floods that occurred in the Emilia-Romagna region, and the rains are expected to continue for several more hours.