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Water Shortages & Worst Yields: Southern Europe Bracing for a Ferocious Drought Summer

Southern Europe is gearing up for an impending summer plagued by severe drought conditions. Certain regions are already grappling with water shortages, while farmers are bracing themselves for the worst crop yields in decades.

Shivam Dwivedi
Water Shortages & Worst Yields: Southern Europe Bracing for a Ferocious Drought Summer (Image Source: Pixabay)
Water Shortages & Worst Yields: Southern Europe Bracing for a Ferocious Drought Summer (Image Source: Pixabay)

The escalating effects of climate change, characterized by higher temperatures and reduced rainfall, have resulted in the depletion of groundwater reserves and bone-dry soils in countries such as Spain, southern France, and Italy. Furthermore, the diminished levels of rivers and reservoirs are threatening the hydropower production anticipated for this summer.

Europe is on track to experience another harsh summer following last year's record-breaking heatwave, which led to the worst drought in at least 500 years, according to European Union researchers. The situation has become particularly severe in Spain, where the drought is expected to worsen in the coming months. Professor Jorge Olcina from the University of Alicante in Spain emphasizes that the current drought cannot be resolved by rainfall at this time of the year, as only localized and sporadic storms can be expected, which will not alleviate the overall rainfall deficit.

In light of the dire circumstances, Spain's Agriculture Minister, Luis Planas, has sought emergency assistance from the European Union. In a letter dated April 24 and seen by Reuters, Planas expressed that the magnitude of the drought's impact exceeds the capacity of national funds to address the consequences effectively. The trend of more frequent and severe droughts is not limited to Southern Europe. The Horn of Africa is facing its worst drought in decades, while Argentina is grappling with a historic drought that has devastated soy and corn crops.

The Mediterranean region, where the average temperature is now 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than it was 150 years ago, is witnessing the projected impact of climate change on the area. Hayley Fowler, a Professor of Climate Change Impacts at Newcastle University, asserts that the current drought aligns with the expectations of climate scientists. However, despite these long-standing forecasts, many farming regions have been slow to adopt water-saving techniques like precision irrigation or to transition to drought-resistant crops such as sunflowers. Governments and companies have been sluggish in their response, with some companies neglecting to alter their consumption patterns and instead searching for technological miracles to solve the water crisis.

France is emerging from its driest winter since 1959, and "crisis" alerts have already been activated in four regions, imposing restrictions on non-priority water usage, including agriculture. Portugal is also experiencing an early onset of drought, with 90% of the mainland affected and severe drought impacting one-fifth of the country, nearly five times the area affected a year ago. In Spain, where rainfall has been less than half the average for the year up until April, thousands of people are reliant on water truck deliveries, and regions like Catalonia have implemented water restrictions.

The agricultural sector has already begun to suffer significant losses, with some farmers reporting crop losses as high as 80%. Cereals and oilseeds are among the most affected crops, according to farming groups. Pekka Pesonen, the head of the European farming group Copa-Cogeca, describes the situation in Spain as the worst harvest loss in decades, surpassing even last year's crisis. Spain is a major producer of olives and fruits for the European Union, accounting for half of the EU's olive production and one-third of its fruit production.

To address the situation, Spain has allocated over 2 billion euros ($2.20 billion) in emergency response funding, with reservoir levels averaging 50% of capacity. The country has also requested a 450-million-euro crisis fund from the European Commission, mobilized from the EU's farming subsidy budget. The Commission said it was monitoring the situation closely.

Commission spokesperson Miriam Garcia Ferrer stated that the severe drought in Southern Europe is particularly concerning due to its potential to increase consumer prices if the EU production significantly decreases. Additionally, struggles similar to those in Southern Europe are expected in Italy, where around 80% of the country's water supply is allocated for agriculture. National data on sowing intentions reveals that Italian farmers plan to reduce the planting area for summer crops by 6% compared to last year, attributed to this year's thin mountain snow cover and low soil moisture.

Luca Brocca, a Director of Research at Italy's National Research Council, reported that after two years of water scarcity, northern Italy is experiencing a 70% deficit in snow water reserves and a 40% deficit in soil moisture. These deep shortages indicate the potential for a recurrence of last year's severe drought, which was the most severe in Italy in 70 years. Brocca expressed that both 2022 and the current year appear to be exceptionally challenging in terms of water scarcity.

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