Across Europe, drought is reducing once-mighty rivers to trickles, with potentially dramatic consequences for industry, freight, energy and food production – just as supply shortages and price rises due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine bite, local media reported.
Driven by climate breakdown, an unusually dry winter and spring followed by record-breaking summer temperatures and repeated heatwaves have left Europe’s essential waterways under-replenished and, increasingly, overheated, The Guardian reported.
With no significant rainfall recorded for almost two months across western, central and southern Europe and none forecast in the near future, meteorologists say the drought could become the continent’s worst in more than 500 years, The Guardian reported.
“We haven’t analysed fully this year’s event because it is still ongoing,” said Andrea Toreti of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. “There were no other events in the past 500 [years] similar to the drought of 2018. But this year, I think, is worse.”
Germany’s Federal Institute of Hydrology (BfG) said the level of the Rhine, whose waters are used for freight transport, irrigation, manufacturing, power generation and drinking, will continue dropping until at least the beginning of next week, The Guardian reported.
A vital part of northwest Europe’s economy for centuries, the 760 miles (1,233km) of the Rhine flow from Switzerland through Germany’s industrial heartland before reaching the North Sea at the megaport of Rotterdam.
In Italy, the flow of the parched Po, Italy’s longest river, has fallen to one-tenth of its usual rate, and water levels are 2 metres below normal. With no sustained rainfall in the region since November, corn and risotto rice production have been hard hit.
The Po valley accounts for between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of Italy’s agricultural production, but rice growers in particular have warned that up to 60 per cent of their crop may be lost as paddy fields dry out and are spoiled by seawater sucked in by the low river level, The Guardian reported.