Europe could face one of its toughest drought years, with extremely dry weather hitting several Mediterranean countries.
That’s the warning from EU Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič, who told lawmakers on Thursday that “the current drought in Europe could become the worst ever.”
Already, prolonged drought conditions have hit several EU member states, including Greece and Italy, raising concern across Europe for the months to come.
Last month, it was reported that an unusually early heat wave in France and Spain could stress wheat crops, after a particularly dry spring.
Italy is experiencing its worst drought in 70 years and authorities fear a prolonged drought could lead to severe shortages of drinking water and irrigation, affecting local populations across northern Italy.
In June, it was reported that the water was so low in large swaths of Italy’s largest river, the Po, that local residents were walking amidst the stretch of sand and shipwrecks were surfacing.
In a park near the village of Gualtieri, cyclists and hikers stopped to watch the Zibello, a 50-meter-long barge that carried timber during World War II but sank in 1943. The ship is normally underwater .
Portugal and Spain
On Friday, the Portuguese government declared an eight-day state of alert due to an increased risk of wildfires, as the drought-stricken country braced for temperatures of up to 43C. This leads to “a significant increase in wildfire risk” through July 15, the ministries said.
Restrictions passed on Friday include banning public access to forests deemed high risk. In 2017, forest fires killed more than 100 people in Portugal.
At the end of June, 96% of the country was classified as being in “extreme” or “severe” drought.
Meanwhile, in parts of Spain, temperatures are expected to soar to 42C this weekend.
The country’s reservoirs are at 45% capacity, on average, according to government data, a worrying development for an EU member state that recorded rainfall barely half its 30-year average in June .
Earlier this week, Romanian authorities urged people to reduce their water consumption as the severe drought strained resources needed for power generation and agriculture. Romania is one of the largest cereal producers in the EU.
Romania’s Environment Minister Barna Tanczos told reporters that drinking water should be conserved, while watering gardens and filling swimming pools should be limited, water levels in the 40 main reservoirs of the country set to fall from 82% now to 68% by the end of July. and 70% of the country currently affected by drought.
Earlier this month EDF in France announced it could be forced to cut nuclear output due to prolonged high temperatures and insufficient river water, which is used to cool nuclear reactors before returning to the river at a higher temperature.
Regulations are in place to limit reactor output during periods of exceptional heat and low water levels.
“We have a special year due to the drought which started early, especially in the south-east of France. But there is generally a little less water available this year”, said Catherine Laugier, director of the EDF environment, during a press conference on 5 July.
Greece suffered some of the most devastating wildfires in Europe in August 2021, and many fear the country could experience similar blazes in the future.
In June, a forest fire raged out of control on Evia, Greece’s second-largest island, underscoring the growing risk, and on Thursday Šefčovič said the EU was already funding the deployment of more than 200 firefighters from across the country. block to deal with the fires in Greece.