No rains, persistent heatwaves: Europe’s ‘worst drought in 500 years’, explained

The shrinking of some of Europe’s biggest rivers – Danube, Rhine and Po – and dry reservoirs in Spain are telltale signs of Europe’s unprecedented drought

FP Explainers August 24, 2022 18:55:55 IST
No rains, persistent heatwaves: Europe’s ‘worst drought in 500 years’, explained

An unprecedented drought has afflicted two-thirds of Europe. AP

As many parts of the world are experiencing extreme weather conditions that have led to flash floods, droughts and wildfires in the recent past, the severe effect of climate change can no longer be disregarded.

Now, comes a worrying report from Europe.

As per the Global Drought Observatory’s (GDO) report, Europe is experiencing its worst drought in 500 years. Some level of drought alert has been sounded for 64 percent of Europe as of 10 August.

The drought observatory, a part of the European Commission's research wing, said the situation is only “worsening” and is likely to extend till November.

Let’s have a look at the findings of the report in detail and Europe’s drought crisis:

Europe’s worst drought in 500 years

Droughts are part of natural weather cycles and are not rare in Europe, however, their intensity this year has triggered alarm.

European summer has never been so dry since 1540, when the year-long drought had claimed tens of thousands of lives, as per Indian Express.

“The severe drought affecting many regions of Europe since the beginning of the year has been further expanding and worsening as of early August,” the drought observatory said in its report.

European countries including Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Romania, Hungary, northern Serbia, Ukraine, Moldova, Ireland and the United Kingdom are facing the worst drought hazard in years.

"The current drought still appears to be the worst since at least 500 years,” the European Commission warned citing the preliminary data, BBC reported.

Shrinking rivers, no rains

Prolonged lack of rainfall along with a series of heatwaves from May has contributed to the dry spell affecting Europe, the observatory found.

The images of dry rivers in several parts of Europe have sent a shocking reminder throughout the globe of the pressing need to address climate change. The Tille River in France’s Lux has dried up and is now covered with only white dust and dead fish.

The shrinking of some of Europe’s biggest rivers– Danube, Rhine and Po– and dry reservoirs in Spain are the telltale signs of Europe’s unprecedented drought.

No rains persistent heatwaves Europes worst drought in 500 years explained

Reduced water levels at River Danube in Hungary bares southern tip of Margaret Island. AP

As per National Public Radio (NPR), western, central and southern Europe have seen no significant rainfall in the last two months.

Meteorologist Peter Hoffmann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Berlin, attributed the current crisis to “long periods of dry weather caused by changes in world weather systems”.

Effects of drought in Europe

The drought conditions have afflicted waterways and power in many parts of the continent.

Europe, which heavily relies on its water bodies to transport cargo, is witnessing disruptions as low water levels have left ships unusable. As a result of lesser shipping loads, the transport of coal and oil has also had an adverse impact.

The yield of summer crops including grain maize, soybeans, and sunflowers has substantially reduced owing to water and heat stresses, says GDO.

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Power supply has also been hit due to inadequate water supply, which is a major requirement of nuclear power plants that use it as a coolant. As per Indian Express, household energy prices in the UK are expected to rise double by October from April costs.

No rains persistent heatwaves Europes worst drought in 500 years explained

Water levels have receded due to drought at Lake Garda in Italy. AP

Meanwhile, hydroelectric power has reduced by a significant 20 per cent, says GDO report.

Some European countries have also been forced to impose restrictions on water usage because of the unprecedented drought conditions.

The water levels have been so low in the Po, Italy's longest river, that boats that vanished long ago are making an appearance.

Research commissioner Mariya Gabriel said the prevailing heatwave and water shortages have "created an unprecedented stress on water levels in the entire EU".

"We are currently noticing a wildfire season sensibly above the average and an important impact on crops production. Climate change is undoubtedly more noticeable every year," she was quoted as saying by BBC.

No relief in sight

The dry spell in major parts of southern England and Wales is likely to continue for a while.

The GDO warns in its report, “Warmer and drier than usual conditions are likely to occur in the western Euro-Mediterranean region in the coming months till November 2022.”

As per BBC, experts have projected that extreme weather conditions are likely to reduce harvests, which in turn will lead to higher food prices.

With inputs from agencies

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