Europe has been hit hard in recent times by a drought marked by historic heat waves, record highs and severe wildfires.
The report on “Drought in Europe – July 2022”, prepared by the Joint Research Center of the European Commission based on the work of the European Drought Observatory, pointed out that “the severe drought affecting several regions of Europe since the beginning of the year continues to expand and worsen”, due to the combination of lack of rain and heat waves.
England and France announced that the month of July was the driest in recent years. Spain is currently experiencing the worst drought since 1981. Also in Portugal it was announced that the country was witnessing the worst drought of the century.
One of the major consequences seen by European countries has been the drought that affects the banks of rivers. From the Danube to the Po, the authorities are concerned and warn about the economic and social problems that may arise from this situation.
In addition to the changing landscape, the depletion of water impairs the transport of goods, the production of energy and even access to drinking water.
The river route with the highest traffic on the continent is conditioned
The Rhine, the second longest in Western Europe, runs through several European countries along 1,233 kilometers, passing through cities of great importance for cargo transport and ending the journey in the North Sea, near the city of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, which is the largest port in Europe.
Low water levels negatively impact the transport of goods such as coal, heating oil, fuel, chemicals, car parts. All items that make this one of the most vital rivers in Europe for the delivery of these goods. Trade is thus drastically affected, at a time when the entire continent faces an energy crisis exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and which seeks to avoid recession at all costs.
The German authorities have even warned that a closure of commercial traffic could be imposed. One of the biggest German gas companies has also warned that the current situation could lead to energy companies having to reduce production. Most German goods are transported on this river, and in the city of Cologne the “levels are unusually low” for this time of year. In this city the image of the river is different, you can only see a trickle of water.
There, navigation is restricted to smaller boats so that they are not stuck at the bottom of the river. A measure was also implemented that requires the load to be reduced by half, with the aim of guaranteeing safety standards. City officials say cargo transport on the river continues, but with vessels sometimes forced to sail 75% empty.
The measures imposed pose yet another problem: companies are forced to resort to more boats to transport the same cargo or to resort to trains and freight trucks that are in short supply. Inevitably, this situation leads to an increase in prices and a decrease in the speed of transport.
the fountain that dried up
The beginning of the River Thames in the UK is dry and has moved downstream about five miles. The river’s flow usually starts in Cirencester and flows through the English capital, London, emptying into the North Sea. But the felt drought, the heat wave that devastated Europe and that hit the country hard, meant that the point that marks the beginning of the Thames is now Somerford Keynes. The announcement was made by the environmental institution Rivers Trust, which operates across the UK and Ireland.
“What we are seeing at the source of the iconic River Thames is sadly emblematic of the situation we face across the country, now and in the future,” Christine Colvin, Director of Law and Engagement at the Rivers Trust, said in a statement sent to CNN.
“While it’s not uncommon for the spring to be dry in the summer, seeing the river flow just five miles downstream is unprecedented,” he said. “The climate crisis is leading, and will lead, to more extreme weather conditions, including droughts and heat waves. This poses a serious threat to rivers and, consequently, to the wider landscape.”
The change in the source of the river comes at a time when British authorities warn that the nation could officially fall into a drought this August. The United Kingdom’s meteorological institute (Met Office) has warned that high temperatures will return in the week ahead, although temperatures are not expected to be reached in July.
In Italy the drought revealed archaeological riches
The Po River, the longest in Italy, is also suffering from the drought, which is the worst in the last 70 years, and which has caused parts of the river to dry up, leaving a trail of land where water used to flow.
Hydroelectric reservoirs have reached historically low values and the drought of the river – which stretches for 652 kilometers from the city of Turin to empty into the Adriatic Sea in Venice – is putting the Italian population’s access to drinking water at risk.
According to the Italian news agency Ansa, the Anbi observatory, which oversees the Italian river, indicated that the drought has had strong consequences on several rivers and that they do not believe that there is a deceleration of the problem, even with the residual rains that have hit the peninsula, making its effect short-lived.
The serious state of the rivers in Italy has brought to light another situation: archaeological treasures that were submerged are now being revealed, such as a vessel with about 55 meters in length sunk by an American bombing during the Second World War in 1944, on the Po River.
In Romania, electricity production worries
At the entrance to Romania, the low levels of the Danube River caused concerns in July, especially for its use in river transport and its dependence on the production of the power plant and the functions of the Cernavoda nuclear plant, responsible for the production of about 20% of the country’s electricity.