Drought in Europe affects rivers, forests, agriculture and logistics

Low water levels hamper river transport, and farmers in several countries see crops in difficulty. In France, restrictions on the use of water forced the shutdown of nuclear plants. This year Europe is facing a dry summer with high temperatures, with multiple effects on forest fires, logistics chains, industrial production and agriculture.

River Rhine in Cologne, Germany

River Rhine in Cologne, Germany

Photo: DW / Deutsche Welle

A visible manifestation of the drought is the banks of some European rivers, which have widened and exposed rocks, debris and even explosive devices from the Second World War that are usually submerged. The low water level affects river transport, with repercussions on the economy as a whole, already impacted by the war in Ukraine.

Rhine with little water

This drama is clear on the River Rhine, which connects the Alps to the North Sea and is the second longest river in Europe, after the Danube.

The Rhine is a logistical artery in Germany, and the low water level already forces the barges that cross it to adopt a reduced load capacity. Some companies have announced that they will stop river transport from next week on the Upper and Middle Rhine, from the Swiss border to Bonn.

The most important landmark on the Middle Rhine is the Kaub meter, about 50 kilometers downriver from the city of Mainz. This Friday, it was 37 centimeters, when the average for this day of the year, in the last five years, is about two meters – the measurement is recorded from the same reference point, and not from the highest point. bottom of the river bed.

Barges can sail there, partially loaded, with a minimum indication of 30 to 35 centimeters. For a full charge, they generally need 1.5 meters at that point.

The lowest level ever recorded was in October 2019, 25 centimeters. In general, the lowest point does not occur in July and August, which are usually rainy months in the region, but in October – which signals bad prospects for the coming months if it does not rain again.

logistical problems

The German Federal Institute of Hydrology (BfG) reported on Thursday that the water level of the Rhine is expected to continue falling at least until the beginning of next week. And river logistics company Contargo has announced that it will suspend most of its operations in the Upper and Middle Rhine next week.

“Our barges will not be able to navigate without risk, and for safety reasons we will need to stop most of our navigation in the Upper and Middle Rhine,” the company said in a statement.

The Rhine is used by several German industries for cargo transport, especially for raw materials such as oil, basic chemicals, coke and coal, whose demand has increased for newly reactivated thermoelectric plants in the face of the Russian gas energy crisis.

Germany’s transport and economy ministries are trying to divert river loads to railways, which are already overloaded. The government is considering intervening to prioritize the transport of essential goods.

The bottleneck can also affect the flow of the next harvest in Germany. Agribusiness association Raiffeisen said storage silos in the south of the country are already full, and that grain is not being transported in sufficient quantities. To replace a barge with grain, up to 40 trucks are needed. And the road transport sector has a shortage of drivers.

A study by British consultancy Capital Economics released on Thursday estimated that low water levels increase the chance of recession in Germany and have the potential to reduce GDP in the third and fourth quarters of the country by 0.2 percentage point.

The River Danube also faces low water levels, and the River Tille has dried up completely in southwestern France, at the height of the village of Lux, leaving thousands of fish dead. The Po River, Italy’s longest, which provides irrigation for about a third of the country’s agricultural production, is also suffering from northern Italy’s worst drought in 70 years.

Risk for crops

The president of the German Farmers Association, Joachim Rukwied, warned on Friday that if the drought continues, this year’s crops could be severely affected.

Rukwied said that “if it doesn’t rain enough and soon, we fear that crop yields could be reduced by as much as 30% or 40%”. He said the grain harvest was going according to plan, but potatoes and beets were at risk. He added that farmers already face other problems such as higher prices for fertilizers, energy and feed, in part due to the war in Ukraine.

In addition, Rukwied pointed out that the drought could also affect the stocks of pasture to feed livestock in winter, as the fields are mostly dry at the moment.

In Spain, the drought has also affected crops. Some avocado farms are removing part of the trees so that more water can be left for the others. Millions of olive trees and sunflowers are drying up in the Andalusia region, while orange and lemon trees face the same in Valencia.

forest fires

The European Union’s Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service reported on Friday that 2022 broke the record for forest fires in southwestern Europe, with several cases in Portugal, Spain and France.

In France, a major fire in the Gironde and Landes departments has burned at least 74 km² of forest since Tuesday. About 1,100 French firefighters were mobilized to fight the blaze. They had the support of over 360 firefighters from other countries, such as Germany, Poland and Romania, while Greece and Italy sent fire-fighting aircraft. Ten thousand people had to be relocated for security.

By the night of Thursday to Friday, the fire appeared to have stopped growing, but firefighters remain on alert as the low humidity and high temperature can make it easier for the flames to spread. This Friday, France had projected maximum temperatures of 38 to 41 degrees.

France recorded its highest level of carbon dioxide emissions from forest fires in the last three months since records began in 2003. The same occurred in Spain in July.

other problems

The drought in England has led to a ban on the use of hoses to water gardens, wash vehicles, fill swimming pools or clean houses, valid in several parts of the country, and the River Thames also faces very low levels of water.

The UK’s National Weather Service declared the month of July as England’s driest since 1935, with an average rainfall of 23.1mm, and some regions experienced their driest July since records began.

On the river Weser in northwest Germany, sightseeing boats have been canceled due to low water levels, and on Lake Constance, on the border with Switzerland and Austria, tour boats are also moored due to low water levels, not seen since 2003.

France was also forced to adopt measures to reduce water consumption, which even affected nuclear power generation. Several nuclear plants in France rely on river water to cool reactors, and some have had to shut down for this reason, causing the country to have to import electricity from its neighbors.

bl (DW, ots)

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