Home NewsroomAgriculture Europe faces Worst Drought in 500 years, Energy and Food Shortage. Rhine may be Suspended

Europe faces Worst Drought in 500 years, Energy and Food Shortage. Rhine may be Suspended

by Amélie Poulain

European Drought Observatory survey shows that the UK and 60% of EU countries are facing severe drought. The main reason is that the abnormally high temperature and the sudden drop in precipitation brought about by climate change have left many countries in a state of water shortage, and the water level of many large rivers has dropped, causing the riverbeds to dry up and aggravating the drought problem. Food, energy, water conservancy transportation, and ecology are greatly affected, and the Rhine River, the economic lifeline, is also on the verge of a crisis of suspension.

European drought has been the worst in nearly 500 years in 2022, and the Rhine is facing a crisis of suspension.
(Photo via pixabay.com)

Taipei, TAIWAN (Merxwire) – According to the European Drought Observatory survey, the United Kingdom and more than 60% of EU countries are facing severe drought problems. The central, western, and southern parts of Europe experienced very little precipitation in the past two months. Countries such as Italy, France, Spain, the UK, and the Netherlands were all in a state of water shortage. The water level of many important rivers declined and the riverbeds dried up. This unusual heat wave has exacerbated the drought problem, greatly affecting food, energy, water conservancy transportation, and ecology.

Since June, all parts of Europe have been hit by heat waves one after another. Most areas have experienced scorching high temperatures, causing soil moisture to evaporate. The water levels of important rivers such as the Rhine and the Danube have dropped sharply, and some rivers are on the verge of suspension. British railway tracks and airport runways were deformed and melted due to high temperatures, and wildfires raged in many places. Combined with a slump in snowmelt in the Alps last winter, made water shortages even worse, plunging Europe into its worst drought in 500 years.

The UK has just experienced the driest July in 90 years. By the end of July, the reservoir was only 65% of its normal water storage capacity. Drought has occurred in the central, southern, and eastern parts of the country, and the high-temperature warning will be extended to the 16th. The UK Met Office predicts that there may be heavy rain after drying. In the case of a dry and hard surface, the rainwater will penetrate the ground for a long time and will first stay on the surface. It is necessary to prevent sudden flooding.

Data from Météo-France shows that the rainfall in July this year was only 9.7 mm, the lowest record in the past 60 years. The tap water in many districts has been empty. More than 100 cities have insufficient drinking water, and 93 areas have limited water. Water trucks have been dispatched to rescue, and set up a crisis team. 

After the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war, due to the economic sanctions against Russia, the supply of energy was insufficient, so it became more dependent on water transportation. Combined with hampered Ukrainian grain exports, food prices have soared across Europe, which has been exacerbated by the heatwave. In addition to the shortage of water for people’s livelihood, the decline in water level affects the transportation volume of the Rhine River, and the logistics chain, generator efficiency, and coal mine transportation are also involved. The drought has also made the problem of food shortage more serious.

The outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war caused a shortage of energy and food supplies in Europe.
(Photo via pexels.com)

The Po River, the longest in Italy, is dry and lacks water for irrigation, and farmers have warned of a lack of milk supply in winter. The Spanish autonomous region of Andalucía is affected by the lack of water in order to reduce the number of dry avocado trees, avocado farmers can only choose to focus on irrigating some trees and abandon hundreds of other avocado trees. The Netherlands has restricted farmers from taking surface water for irrigation to prevent the surface from drying up. Sunflower production in Europe is now forecast to fall by 1.6 million tons this year, while corn is down 12.5 million tons.

As for the impact of transportation, the issue that attracts the most attention is the falling water level of the Rhine River, which is known as the lifeline of the European economy. The Rhine River originates from the Swiss Alps and is about 760 miles long. Most of the river goods of Germany such as auto parts, coal, chemical raw materials, and food depend on its waterways. Last winter, the snow melt in the Swiss Alps was insufficient and the weather was abnormal, the water level had dropped to the brink of danger, and it may face suspension at any time.

At present, the ships passing through the Rhine have reduced their carrying capacity, which directly affects the energy production capacity of various countries. Insufficient coal imports have temporarily cut the electricity supply at Germany’s two largest thermal power plants. Refineries in Germany, the Czech Republic, and Austria have also been shut down due to a shortage of raw materials. Switzerland draws on wartime reserves due to a lack of petroleum fuel. The chemical giant BASF and the steel manufacturer Thyssenkrupp also affected their production capacity because of the lack of raw materials. The hydropower efficiency also declined. Alternative railway and road transportation are expensive, and it is currently difficult to completely replace water transportation to increase production capacity.

Not only the Rhine but many rivers in Europe are facing the dilemma of water level decline due to high temperature, resulting in a wide-ranging and serious energy crisis. Europe’s overall hydropower capacity has fallen by 20%, and Italy and Spain have dropped by as much as 40%. Norway is also unable to export to other European countries due to the reduction in hydropower generation. Eddie Rich of the International hydropower association said that this winter will face serious energy shortages. In the future, countries must devote more efforts to improving pipelines and energy transportation to cope with various emergencies.

The water level of the Rhine River has dropped, resulting in a reduction in the carrying capacity of ships, affecting the energy production capacity and insufficient raw materials of goods in various countries.
(Photo via pixabay.com)

The nuclear power plant owned by Électricité de France S.A.EDF has been suspended due to the lack of cooling water, and about half of its nuclear reactors have been suspended, resulting in a decline in nuclear power production. In the UK, electricity production fell as high temperatures reduced the production efficiency of petrochemical, solar and nuclear power. In addition, after the Russian-Ukrainian war, Russia’s natural gas supply to Europe has dropped by 80%, and the energy supply is even tighter. Britain and France are highly dependent on energy, if this situation continued it is expected that there will be more power curtailment measures in winter.

Climate change causes environmental changes, affects the agricultural economy, food, and energy production capacity, and also has a great impact on ecology. The high temperature reduces the amount of water in the river, and the rise in water temperature leads to the insufficient oxygen content in the water, making it difficult for aquatic animals and plants to survive. Many dry riverbeds have the horrific phenomenon of dead fish floating on the water surface, especially in the rivers where no living water flows. For example, the river channel of the villages in the Burgundy region through which the Tille river in eastern France flows is completely dry, leaving only dead fish and river silt on the channel, which has become another ecological catastrophe.

The Joint Research Centre forecasts and warns that drought conditions will continue to worsen, covering more than 47% of land in Europe. Andrea Toreti, a scientist with the European Drought Observatory survey, believes that this year’s drought has surpassed the anomaly of 2018 and is the worst in nearly 500 years. Drought conditions in the UK and Central and Western Europe will be more severe in the next three months. Peter Hoffmann, a meteorologist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, believes that weather anomalies and changes have weakened the airflow that brings moisture to the European land, making the climate dry for a long time, especially in summer.

In the face of natural counterattacks and war disasters that still have no solution, countries have set up crisis teams to propose restrictive measures. France’s crisis team has proposed various water restrictions and emergency water supply measures in response to the worst drought in French history. The Dutch government established Managementteam Watertekorten to promote water conservation to the public, limiting the use of surface water for irrigation, and banning navigation in some waterways to protect water for agriculture and shipping. Yorkshire Water in the UK will ban users from washing cars, and watering flowers and swimming pools from the 26th. Faced with the drying up of the source of the Thames, the “Water Restriction Order” was also issued for the first time in the southeast, prohibiting the use of tap water to water flowers outdoors. Hopefully, we can get through this crisis of food and energy scarcity and wait for life to return to normal.

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