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5th Dec 2022

Europe's drought 'may be worst in 500 years'

  • Wildfires have so far burned some 660,000 hectares of land (Photo: EUobserver)
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According to data released on Tuesday (23 August) by the EU's Joint Research Centre (JRC), over half of Europe is in danger of drought.

In addition, 17 percent of Europe's surface is on red alert, meaning severe water deficiency.

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Although final data will only come in at the end of the season, the JRC said this year's drought may be worst in 500 years.

"Severe-to-extreme" drought conditions are evident in Italy, south-eastern and north-western France, eastern Germany, eastern Europe, southern Norway and large parts of the Balkans.

Rain has fallen in some areas in the past week, but overall drought conditions have worsened since the agency last updated its results in July.

"The combination of a severe drought and heatwaves has created unprecedented stress on water levels," EU research commissioner Mariya Gabriel said in a statement. "We are currently noticing a wildfire season ... above the average and an important impact on crops production."

Current yield forecasts for grain, maize, soybeans, and sunflowers at the EU level are 16 percent, 15 percent and 12 percent below the five-year average, according to the report.

The severe rainfall deficit has affected almost all rivers across Europe, which has had "severe impacts" on the energy sector. Searing heat has reduced water volume and incapacitated hydropower plants across Europe.

Norway, an electricity exporter and Europe's second-largest natural gas supplier, will cap electricity exports if water levels in its hydropower stations reach too low a level.

A lack of cooling water has also caused power generators in France and elsewhere to curtail power production or shut down entirely. And low river levels have affected river coal transport.

The JRC report warned warmer and drier conditions could last until November in the western Mediterranean.

Severe drought is also predicted to last for another three months in Spain, eastern Portugal and along the Croatian coast.

Wildfires have so far burned some 660,000 hectares of land, a 56-percent increase compared to the previous record set over the same period in 2017, when 420,913 hectares burned.

Fire hazard in Portugal is "high-to-extreme over most of the country" and on Tuesday, the EU Commission said it had mobilised two firefighting planes from Greece to help the country battle forest fires in northern Portugal.

Almost two-thirds of Europe in danger of drought

Data released by the European Drought Observatory show 60 percent of Europe and the United Kingdom is currently in a state of drought, with farming, homes and industry being affected. Drought conditions have also led to an increase in wildfires.

Droughts prompt calls to cut water use amid harvest fears

With the prolonged lack of rain and high temperatures, fears have emerged over water shortages and droughts decreasing crop yields — prompting calls to use less water and reuse urban wastewater for agricultural irrigation.

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