General view of the bridge on the lac of Vinca, near Perpignan, France, 11 May 2023. EFE-EPA/Guillaume Horcajuelo

Drought looms in southern Europe amid concern over water shortage

Rome, May 11 (EFE).- Europe has witnessed one of its driest and warmest winters in recent decades – after touching record lows in rain and highs in heat in 2022 – a combination which could put at risk half the continent and aggravate a drought which could affect water supply for both farming and human consumption.

General view of the dried lac of Vinca, near Perpignan, France, 11 May 2023. EFE-EPA/Guillaume Horcajuelo

According to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, temperatures in Europe have risen at double the global average and faster than any other continent, even as the continent is receiving less rains, especially in the south.

These factors have produced significant anomalies in soil moisture, which affects agriculture and livestock farming.

One of the worst affected countries is Spain, where an extraordinary cabinet meeting was held on Thursday to approve an aid package worth over $2.188 billion to mitigate the effects of a drought, including $696 million for the agricultural sector.

The measure comes after a prolonged dry spell even as water reservoirs only have 48.9 percent their capacity. Water levels have now dropped for five consecutive weeks.

Another $766 million were approved for urgent actions to improve water resources in the worst-affected river basins.

France has also been hit by an acute drought, especially in the southern and eastern regions, after the entire country was affected by rainfall shortage last year.

Some rain in early May may not be sufficient to resolve the crisis as underground water levels are below normal in 75 percent of the sources.

The agriculture and livestock sectors have warned that 2023 could be a “black year” for production.

In this backdrop, the Pyrénées-Orientales region this week announced major restrictions on the domestic, industrial and agricultural use ofwater, with fines of up to $1,600 for individual violators and $8,200 for firms.

As many as 20 of the 96 French urban departments already have some restrictions in place, while 27 others are on high alert.

French farmers may be forced to cut water consumption by up to 50 percent.

Similarly, Italy is also witnessing a worrying drought that has especially affected the valley of its main river Po.

The area already witnessed its worst water shortage in 70 years in 2022.

According to the National Research Center, currently 6.3 percent of Italian territory has been hit by a “severe-extreme” drought, although rains in late April and early May have brought some relief.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s government has constituted a body to follow the water crisis, which held its first meeting on May 5, and approved the allocation of over $110 million for urgent measures in the Lombardy, Piedmont, Veneto, Emilia Romagna and Lazio regions.

Drought is also affecting 89 percent of Portugal’s territory already, especially in the south, as the situation worsened in April due to lesser than average rainfall and high temperatures, according to a government report released this week. Turkey, too, was hit by severe rainfall shortage in winters. EFE