Devastating news from Europe’s south continue and even the usually cooler north reported extremely high temperatures this week: The coastal province of Zeeland in the Netherlands reached temperatures of up to 38 degrees Celsius and, to the west, Britain broke its heat record of 40 degrees. While Belgium reduced the capacity of two nuclear reactors, Germany called for the highest level of forest fire alert in 10 of the country’s 16 states. The ongoing high temperatures are affecting people, water levels and crops in many ways.
Last week, researchers at the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC) warned that nearly half of the EU’s territory is currently at risk of drought. The JRC reported that 46% of the EU’s territory was exposed to warning level drought, with 11% at alert level. The EU researchers also warned that the lack of water and strong heat are driving crop yields down in France, Romania, Spain, Portugal and Italy.
According to the Italian Farmers’ Association Coldiretti, the country’s agricultural sector has suffered over three billion euros in damages due to the drought and the heat, and crop yields have been reduced by up to 70% in some cases.
Drought and low water levels: Italy‘s Po and Germany‘s Rhine are drying up
Italy’s and Germany’s rivers are under strain from the hot, dry weather. The Po, Italy’s longest river, with its delta near Venice, is at its lowest level of the past 70 years at certain points along its course. On Tuesday [July 19], Lombardy’s Governor Attilio Fontana said that his region has almost run out of water for agricultural use due to the severe drought that has hit Italy.
In Germany, the German Federal Institute for Hydrology announced on Tuesday [July 19] that two of the country’s major rivers and shipping routes, the Elbe and the Rhine, currently have lower water levels than usual, sometimes forcing ships to lighten their load if they don’t want to get stuck.
In Spain, as stated by the EU Commission’s report, water reservoir volumes are currently 31% below the 10-year average, while in Portugal, water to produce hydroelectric energy is at half the average of the previous seven years.
Forest fires rage across Europe
Aridity and high temperatures have created ideal conditions for fires to spread quickly in many parts of Europe. The last week has seen numerous wildfires erupt in Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, among others.
Wildfires in Spain, further fanned by strong winds, have destroyed at least 60,000 hectares of land in 10 days, while in neighbouring Portugal, around 30,000 hectares have been destroyed in a week.
“Climate change is a killer,”Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said on visiting the region of Extremadura.
“It kills people, as we have seen, but it is also killing our ecosystem, our biodiversity. And it is destroying the most valuable goods of our society: our homes, our businesses, our livestock,” Sánchez added.
Forest fires raging on France’s Atlantic coast continued to spread this week and destroyed 20,600 hectares (50,900 acres) so far. Landiras to the south-east of Bordeaux and Teste-de-Buch, directly on the coast to the south-west, were among the affected areas. More than 37,000 people have been evacuated. On Wednesday, the fire department said the fires had been brought under control thanks to better weather conditions, but had not yet been extinguished completely.
Friuli Venezia Giulia is among the worst hit regions in Italy. On Wednesday, a huge fire broke out in the Carso area, disrupting road and rail traffic and forcing Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri to close their plant in Monfalcone after smoke had covered the northeastern part of town.
Wildfires in mined areas
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, still suffering from landmines laid during the 1992-1995 war, fires now threaten to engulf the mined area around Lake Boracko in Konjic. While helicopters have been requested from the BiH armed forces, firemen and the Bosnian mountain rescue service are struggling to extinguish fires in the Blidinje Nature Park. Neighbouring Croatia has sent Canadair firefighting airplanes, but the extinguishing work is difficult due to wind conditions.
Emergency measures: cities on red alert
As temperatures soared and approached the 40-degree mark in the Netherlands, gritting vehicles were dispatched to spread salt on certain roads to reduce the surface temperature. Authorities explained that the salt extracted moisture from the air with a resultant cooling effect on the asphalt, which can reach temperatures of up to 50 degrees in the present conditions.
The Italian government has set aside 36 million euros for five regions over which Mario Draghi‘s government declared a state of emergency for drought: Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, Piedmont, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto. On Monday [July 18], the country’s health ministry put nine cities on red alert, which means the heat is so intense that it is considered a threat to the general population. In addition, the government aims to appoint a special commissioner to tackle the crisis and address issues regarding Italy’s water infrastructure.
Due to the drought, Romania and Croatia are both restricting the use of water. Croatian authorities on the peninsula of Istria issued a directive on Monday banning the use of drinking water for most other uses. Romania’s environment minister Barna Tánczos also announced restrictions to water consumption, to ensure there will be sufficient drinking water in the medium and long term.
Record temperatures more likely in the future
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) believes that severe heat waves, such as the one currently affecting Europe, are to become the norm during the summer months.
“Heatwaves of this kind will occur more and more frequently during the coming decades, and the negative trend in climate will continue until at least 2060, independent of our success in climate mitigation,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said on Tuesday [July 19].
Looming crop failures
Romania – a major European grain exporter – might deliver much less corn and sunflower this season, as it will prioritize supplying the local market after the drought hit crops, Minister of Agriculture Petre Daea announced. The country is lagging behind other states in expanding irrigation systems and is facing serious problems as climate change makes extreme weather events more frequent. Given the forecasts for more dry weather, some farmers have decided to harvest corn earlier than usual to save what they can, and use the crops in biofuel production. To alleviate the problems, the government plans for the timely provision of subsidies and funds, allocated from the EU as well as the state budget. Main areas of funding will be investments in the irrigation system, the support of the harvest, transport, storage and sale of agricultural products as well as initiatives to reduce energy consumption.
This article is published Fridays. The content is based on news by agencies participating in the enr.