Europe grapples with precarious water situation ahead of another drought-ridden summer

  • Water resources in Europe are becoming increasingly scarce due to the worsening climate emergency.
  • Reservoirs in Mediterranean countries such as Italy have dropped to water levels typically associated with summer heatwaves in recent weeks.
  • It comes as temperatures are poised to soar over the summer and many fear Europe’s already “very precarious” water problem could get even worse.

A view of the drought-stricken Los Bermejales reservoir, which is at 18 percent of its capacity in Arenas del Rey in Granada, Spain on May 13, 2023.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

European policymakers are struggling to address a growing water crisis ahead of what researchers fear could be yet another summer of drought fueled by the climate crisis.

Europe’s water resources are becoming increasingly scarce as the climate emergency worsens, with record temperatures in spring and a historic winter heatwave putting a strain on the region’s rivers and ski slopes.

Reservoirs in Mediterranean countries like Italy have dropped to water levels typically associated with summer heatwaves in recent weeks, threatening agricultural production, while protests over water shortages have erupted in both France and Spain .

It comes as temperatures are poised to soar over the summer and many fear Europe’s already “very precarious” water problem could get even worse.

Satellite data analyzed by researchers at the Austrian University of Graz earlier this year found that drought was affecting Europe on a much larger scale than researchers had previously expected.

The study was released after European Union researchers found that Europe experienced its hottest summer ever last year, with the intense drought thought to be the worst the region had seen in at least 500 years.

Researchers from the University of Graz said Europe has suffered from a severe drought since 2018, with the effects becoming evident last year as retreating waters devastated food and energy production, while numerous aquatic species lost their habitats.

“A few years ago, I never imagined that water would be a problem here in Europe, especially in Germany or Austria,” said Torsten Mayer-Grr, lead author of the satellite study.

“We’re actually having problems with the water supply here, we need to think about it.”

In Spain, which saw temperatures soar to nearly 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in April, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez warned in the same month that drought in the southern European country had become a major long-term concern. .

“The government of Spain and I are aware that the drought debate will be one of the central political and territorial debates of our country in the coming years,” Sanchez told Parliament, according to The Associated Press.

Last month, the Spanish government approved a 2.2 billion euro ($2.4 billion) package in a bid to ease the impact of the drought that has hit its agricultural sector.

A farmer displays a pot of water while speaking into a microphone about drought at a farmers rally to draw attention to rural living conditions and to claim the importance of agriculture in society and its contribution to the country’s economy, in Madrid on May 13, 2023.

Oscar Del Pozzo | afp | Getty Images

Meanwhile, the European Drought Observatory warned in a special snapshot report earlier this year that conditions in late winter were similar to those seen last year, when high temperatures and lack of rainfall resulted in a widespread and prolonged drought that affected a large part of the continent.

The latest available data shows drought alert conditions for more than a quarter of the 27-nation EU bloc, while 8% of the region is on drought alert status.

Samantha Burgess, deputy director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, said the outlook for much of Europe this summer “doesn’t look as bleak as it did a month ago”.

That’s because, amid a particularly changeable spring that saw record April temperatures in Spain and Portugal and devastating flash floods in Italy, heavy rains across southern Europe in recent weeks have helped replenish watersheds and improve climate control. soil moisture.

However, Burgess said much of northern Europe and countries including Spain, France and Portugal in the south still looked “pretty dry” at a time when some researchers fear Europe could be on its way to another summer. brutal.

“For water security across Europe, we really need to change the way we treat water and I think last year’s events have really been a wake-up call for a lot of European decision-makers,” Burgess told CNBC by phone. .

Cedric Sabate, an arborist, thins his trees to help them resist water restrictions in Thuir, near Perpignan, in southern France, on May 16, 2023.

Raymond Roig | afp | Getty Images

A spokesperson for the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, did not respond to a request for comment from CNBC.

Chloe Brimicombe, a climate researcher at Austria’s University of Graz, said water scarcity is a particularly serious problem in southern Europe.

“But I think Central and Western Europe is less prepared and has the potential to hit them in the next few years in a way that they don’t really expect,” Brimicombe told CNBC by phone.

“Europe needs to realize that climate change is affecting them,” he continued.

“They like to think that climate change is just affecting the global south. And of course it’s affecting those people a lot more, but it’s also affecting Europe. Not only do they need to help the global south, but they also have to help themselves at home and that means stronger mitigation and adaptation measures.”

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