Climate change: Drought: what is threatening internationally this summer

As a result of climate change, droughts in Europe have become significantly more likely and also more intense.

Climate change: Drought: what is threatening internationally this summer

As a result of climate change, droughts in Europe have become significantly more likely and also more intense. This is not just a feeling, but the statement of experts. The consequences of the change can be felt in large parts of Europe and Africa, but with very different effects. Many countries are increasingly preparing for extreme weather events. A journey and overview of the effects of climate change - from Lisbon to Istanbul, from London to Cape Town:

In Germany, the winters, i.e. the cold periods, have become noticeably shorter. Water reservoirs such as groundwater, lakes and soil can no longer fill up as much in many places due to less rain, as Fred Hattermann from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) says. It has also simply gotten warmer, "in Germany now on average by 2 degrees Celsius," says climate researcher Hattermann. "Due to the longer vegetation period and high temperatures, the water stress for the vegetation and overall evaporation increases."

More long general weather conditions in Europe

In addition, the researchers observed an increase in long-term weather patterns, often high pressure areas, which block the inflow of moist air masses from the Atlantic, especially over Europe. In Germany, conditions like those in Spain or France are still a long way off, says Hattermann. Nevertheless, preparations are being made: the federal government recently formulated a national water strategy for water supply. Guidelines are to be developed together with the federal states as to what the usage claims would look like in cases of water scarcity.

Britain bans the use of garden hoses and sprinklers in parts of south-east England due to the ongoing drought. Anyone who waters the garden there, washes their car or fills the private pool will face a fine of 1,000 pounds (almost 1,170 euros). The utility emphasizes that it has no other option: Demand broke records in June, South East Water said. In some areas there is little water left. Some schools had to close due to a lack of water, and in some places stations have opened where residents can pick up bottled water.

The Netherlands is once again preparing for an extremely dry summer. The water reservoirs are still full and the groundwater is sufficiently high due to the wet spring. But in some areas the water level is so low that fish can no longer get enough oxygen. If the drought persists, the government will re-enact the emergency plan. Then, as in 2022, a national crisis team distributes the water. The dykes have top priority. They must be kept moist, otherwise they risk breaking. That would be catastrophic for the country, which is a good third below sea level.

Strict rules in case of drought

France determines locally what is allowed in the event of drought. In the southern department of Pyrenées-Orientales (on the border with Spain), for example, strict rules already apply: washing cars outside the facility is prohibited, and facades and roofs are also cleaned. Private pools, even in vacation rentals, may not be filled up or topped up. Watering lawns and beds is also prohibited. Beach showers and fountains should be turned off. And farmers must also significantly reduce their water consumption.

Spain is suffering from a long-lasting drought that started in some parts of the country in 2014 and is getting worse. This June, the country's reservoirs were only 47.5 percent full, compared to an average of 68 percent over the past decade. The situation is particularly dramatic in Catalonia and Andalusia. The reservoirs there are only about a quarter full. In regions particularly affected by drought, water consumption limits have been in effect since 2022. Crops and greenhouses must reduce their water use by 40 percent, livestock by 30 percent, and manufacturing and industry by 15 percent. Cars can only be washed in car washes, swimming pools and pools can only be filled if the water is cleaned in a closed circuit.

However, on Mallorca, the Germans' favorite holiday island, there has been heavy rainfall and the groundwater reservoirs are better filled than last year. The island also has seawater desalination plants. Nevertheless, the authorities warn that there could be some restrictions in some communities due to the immense number of tourists.

Portugal also fears drought again and wants to reduce the extraction of groundwater in the holiday region of Algarve. The construction of a seawater desalination plant is planned there.

Drought, storms, floods

Italy will be hit by extreme weather this year. At first, drought and dryness caused problems, especially in northern Italy. At the end of May, storms, devastating floods and landslides hit the Adriatic region of Emilia-Romagna; the previous drought had created a hard soil that was less able to absorb water. For this summer, the government has launched preventive measures. For example, the reuse of treated wastewater and the expansion of desalination plants are to be promoted. A drought emergency had already been declared in some regions of the country in 2022.

The weather in Greece is also strange, but not as expected: meteorologists say that there hasn't been such a cool, rainy spring in decades. Until June, the thermometer only rose to over 30 degrees on the island of Crete, far to the south. There are no water problems because the country's most important reservoirs were well filled last year.

Turkey has large natural water reserves, but not only in megacities such as the 16-million metropolis of Istanbul does water become scarce from time to time. Reservoirs and water reservoirs have been dangerously empty in the dry months for several years. In addition, the groundwater level is falling in many places due to overexploitation. The municipal water administration keeps calling on people in Istanbul to save water. Turkey's water systems need to be renewed; a large part is lost via leaks in the pipes.

Dangerous drought

In Africa, the drought is life-threatening: the Sahel zone in particular, from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east of Africa, has been experiencing a catastrophic drought for months. In the Horn of Africa it is at its worst in 40 years. 346 million people - a quarter of Africa's population - don't have enough to eat there because nothing grows due to a lack of water. In some areas, people have been waiting for rainfall for more than two years.

In the tourist metropolis of Cape Town in South Africa, the "zero hour" almost struck in 2018. Then, after a three-year drought, the water would have been shut off. At the peak of the crisis, in February 2018, the approximately 4.5 million inhabitants were only allowed to use 50 liters of water per person per day - that had to be enough for drinking, showering, cleaning, cooking and flushing the toilet. Since then, the city has been building a completely new water supply system, which is based on rain, groundwater extraction, desalination and treatment in equal parts.