Even before summer arrives, Europe run out of water.
A large water reservoir which is the main source of water for millions of Catalans has been emptied. The impossibility of supplying water to many villages has caused public clashes and conflicts in France. In Italy, the level of the largest river has fallen to levels of last June. More than a quarter of the Old Continent faces conditions drought already in April, and many countries are preparing for a difficult summer, similar to last year.
A recent study using satellite data confirmed that Europe has been hit by a severe drought since 2018. Ever-higher temperatures are causing a dangerous vicious circle precariousness water.
“A few years ago, I would have said that we have enough water in Europe. Now it seems that we are facing a problem of water scarcity,” notes Torster Meyer-Geer, head of the study. satellite data.
Experts warn that even a rainy spring could not balance the situation. And with summer fast approaching, governments are scrambling to find a solution not only to existing difficulties, but also to future shortages.
Last year’s drought that hit Europe’s surface and groundwater has reached historic proportions. The hope that winter with its rains and snows would somewhat alleviate the phenomenon has been bitterly denied.
Spain is experiencing an abnormal heat wave and drought in the spring, particularly in Catalonia, in the northeast, which faces worst drought in decades.
Drought, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez pointed out last week, “will be one of the central political and territorial issues of the confrontation in the country in the years to come.
With no rainfall, water reservoirs – where rainwater is collected for use during the driest months – were only filled to a quarter of their capacity in the region. Some farmers were forced not to cultivate, in many areas water was carried in aqueducts and in at least one case farmers were forced to postpone planting indefinitely.
France experienced its driest winter in 60 years, with at least 30 consecutive 24-hour periods without a single drop of rain in January and February.
In Italy, the research institute CIMA recorded a 64% reduction in snowfall in mid-April. The waters of the Po are at the same low levels as last summer. While the water level of Lake Garda is less than half of its average level.
Winter rainfall is crucial, especially for Mediterranean countriesexplains Fred Hattermann, hydrologist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
Given this year’s low rainfall and limited snow cover in the Alps, “if it doesn’t rain now, drought is virtually certain”, he warned.
However, even though it is raining now, spring rains will only serve to alleviate severe water shortages this summer.
Drought is a complex phenomenon with many factors, from over-consumption to rising temperatures – which are sure to worsen water scarcity in Europe.
There are three ways global warming will intensify drought in Europe, Hatterman says.
First of all, as temperatures rise, more water evaporates. “Essentially, we should have a steady increase in precipitation to compensate for the increase in evaporation,” notes the German hydrologist.
Secondly, climate change is weakening the European airflow, which means that atmospheric pressure can be disturbed, causing prolonged periods of heat and drought -as happened last year- or prolonged heavy rains, as happened in the deadly floods of 2021.
Thirdly, Europe’s glaciers and snow cover are rapidly shrinking due to the rise in temperature which deprives large rivers, such as the Rhine, the Danube, the Rhône or the Po, of vital water supplies.
This year, the water from melting ice in European reservoirs “will actually be much less than usual,” said Andrea Toretti, a researcher at the European Commission’s Research Centre.
According to him, Spain, southern Portugal, Italy and France they will prove to be particularly vulnerable.
“Poland and other regions such as Bulgaria, Romania, Hellas are showing early signs of drought,” he warned.
It is recalled that, according to data from the European Copernicus service, Europe, where the temperature is rising twice as fast as the global averagelast year saw the continent’s hottest summer since data collection began in 1950.
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