The procession in Perpignan in southern France has little to do with folklore or the cultivation of religious customs, but the parade will certainly cause a stir. For the first time in 150 years, farmers and Catholic clergy in the city near the Spanish border set out together on Saturday to ask the patron saint of farmers in the Catalan region for rain.
It is urgent, because very little rain has fallen in the already dry region for months. The situation is similar in large parts of France, the groundwater reserves are exhausted and the government is alarmed. Is there a risk of a second summer of drought after 2022?
Devastating rain balance
The rainfall balance for the winter months, at least, is devastating: since weather records began in 1959, there has never been such a long period of rain in France in winter, according to the weather service Météo France. This led to a remarkable drying out of the soil for the time of year, which had already been weakened by the drought in the summer of 2022. Rainfall in March has meanwhile improved the situation in part of France. In the south of the country, however, it is still drier than normal, Météo France said.
According to the meteorologists, the direct trigger of the most recent dry period was a high pressure area that kept precipitation away from France for weeks. However, as a study presented in February by the French national research organization (CNRS) shows, the rise in temperature in connection with climate change in Europe is causing the extent and extent of the high pressure areas to expand - with increasing drought as a result.
Some departments, especially in southern France, have already ordered restrictions. Irrigating gardens and sports stadiums, filling swimming pools and washing cars were all banned - a restriction unprecedented for the time of year. President Emmanuel Macron called for national water conservation. "We have a dry winter and, at the crucial moment, too little rain that allows our groundwater reserves to be replenished," said Macron. "So we know that, like last summer, we will face shortage problems." Instead of regulating scarce water in the short term, it is important to plan early.
Procession for the rain
The call for help to the church in Perpignan, but with a procession to pray for rain, comes from winemaker Georges Puig. "It's raining everywhere in France, just not here," he recently complained. As the first vicar of Saint-Jean Baptiste Cathedral, Abbé Christophe Lefebvre, said, the procession leads from the cathedral through the historic city gate to the Têt river. Relics of St. Galderic, the patron saint of farmers, are carried along. With the relics you want to stand in the almost dried up river bed. "The water is only 50 centimeters deep, so we can go in with rubber boots," says Lefebvre. The procession revives a Visigoth tradition from the Middle Ages.
The increasing periods of drought are causing problems for winegrowers in the Mediterranean region. The French Viticulture Institute had already devoted a study to the orientation of viticulture in view of climate change in 2021. One of the recommendations is that winegrowers adjust their production and water use based on better regional climate data. It is also advised to grow more climate-resistant vines and to take steps to make viticulture as climate-neutral as possible. In the long term, France's wine sector will have to make the necessary adjustments to climate change, according to the Ministry of Agriculture in Paris. The government wants to help create a strategy.