Eruope could be facing one of its toughest years when it comes to drought, with extremely dry weather hitting several Mediterranean countries.
That's the warning from EU Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič, who told legislators on Thursday that “the present drought in Europe could become the worst ever.”
Already, extended drought conditions have hit several EU member states, including Greece and Italy, heightening concern across Europe for the months ahead.
Last month it was reported that an exceptionally early heatwave in France and Spain could stress wheat crops, coming after a notably dry spring.
Italy is experiencing its worst drought in 70 years, and authorities worry that prolonged drought could lead to serious shortages of water for drinking and irrigation, affecting local populations across the whole of northern Italy.
In June it was reported that water was so low in large stretches of Italy’s largest river, the Po, that local residents were walking through the middle of the expanse of sand and shipwrecks were resurfacing.
In a park near the village of Gualtieri, cyclists and hikers stopped to look at the Zibello, a 50-metre-long barge that transported wood during the second world war but sank in 1943. The ship is normally underwater.
Portugal and Spain
On Friday Portugal’s government declared an eight-day state of alert due to a heightened risk of wildfires, with the drought-stricken country preparing for temperatures as high as 43°C. This brings with it “a significant worsening of the wildfire risk” through 15 July, government departments said.
The restrictions adopted Friday include barring public access to forests deemed to be at 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 either “extreme” or “severe” drought.
Meanwhile, in some parts of Spain temperatures are expected to climb to 42°C 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 saw rainfall of just half of its 30-year average in June.
Earlier this week Romanian authorities urging the population to cut back on water use, with severe drought straining resources that are needed for electricity generation and agriculture. Romania is one of the EU’s largest grain producers.
Romanian environment minister Barna Tanczos told reporters that drinking water should be conserved, while watering gardens and filling up pools should be limited, with water levels in the country’s 40 main reservoirs expected to drop from 82% now to 68% by the end of July, and 70% of the country currently impacted by drought.
Earlier this month France's EDF announced that it might be forced to cut its nuclear output due to prolonged high temperatures and insufficient river water, which is used for cooling nuclear reactors before returning to the river at a higher temperature.
Regulations are in place to limit reactor production during times of exceptional heat and low water levels.
"We have a peculiar year due to the drought that has started early, especially in southeastern France. But there is generally a little bit less water available this year," Catherine Laugier, EDF’s environment director, told a news conference on 5 July.
Greece suffered some of Europe’s most devastating forest fires in August 2021, and many worry the country is poised to experience similar blazes in the future.
In June a wildfire raged out of control on Evia, Greece's second-largest island, highlighting the growing risk, and on Thursday Šefčovič said that the EU was already funding the deployment of over 200 firefighters from across the bloc to deal with fires in Greece.