On dry land: water is becoming scarce in Europe. That's the reason, these are the consequences and countermeasures are taken

In 1975 Rudi Carrell longed for heat and sunshine.

On dry land: water is becoming scarce in Europe. That's the reason, these are the consequences and countermeasures are taken

In 1975 Rudi Carrell longed for heat and sunshine. He expressed his wish in a song. "When will it really be summer again (...)? With sunshine from June to September, and not as wet and as Siberian as last year." If showmaster Carell were still alive today, he would definitely enjoy this summer. The last measured almost 30 degrees were enough even on Sylt to quickly get a sunburn on the beach and to splash around in the North Sea without firing.

But the vegetation in Europe, which has been shaken by heat and drought, should probably do better with a touch of Siberia with rain at the moment. According to a research report by US researchers that appeared in the magazine "Nature Geoscience", the drought is due to a change in the Azores high. And that, in turn, is linked to climate change. The stronger the Azores high over the Atlantic, the hotter and drier the weather in Europe. Meteorological observations show that the number of Azores highs has increased steadily since 1850. While in the 19th century such a weather event occurred every ten years, it now happens every four years.

The Helmholtz Institute's German Drought Monitor also shows that droughts are increasing in Germany, among other places. But this is not only due to the lack of rain, as the Swiss environmental physicist Sonia Seneviratne discovered years ago. Evaporating water has become a massive problem in Central and Western Europe. Measurement data from the Swiss researcher show that in June alone, 140 liters of water per square meter evaporated in the foothills of the Alps - a maximum value and extremely problematic for the water supply in German-speaking countries.

But anyone who thinks that rain can fix the problem is wrong, because according to climate experts, the drought has long since taken root deep in the European soil. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), 80 percent of recorded drought damage affects agriculture. "With increasing global warming, longer and more frequent droughts are to be expected, especially in southern Europe. Since the turn of the millennium, both the frequency and the intensity with which droughts have occurred in Europe are without precedent," summarizes the WWF in a current report.

But consumer behavior also plays a role. The news last week that mankind has used up its natural resources for this year was not very gratifying and no less surprising. According to calculations by the Global Footprint Network, from the so-called Earth Overshoot Day on, people are claiming more than is actually available to them for this year. Fresh water included. According to a WWF study from 2009, the annual water footprint for Germany alone was 159.5 billion cubic meters. This also includes the so-called "virtual water", i.e. the need for the provision of consumer goods. In order to cover German needs from German resources alone, Lake Constance would have to be emptied three times.

Looking at Europe, these facts speak for themselves: in Portugal, France, Spain and even in Germany, forest fires smolder for days or even weeks. Italy declares a drought emergency due to water shortages. In Spain, two thirds of the country are threatened with devastation. And in the Federal Republic of Germany, the Greens in Berlin are demanding powers to take action against waste in the event of a water shortage. At the moment, Berlin can only appeal to consumers. In contrast to other federal states, the state of Berlin does not have a legal authority to order rationing, for example.

Vacationers on Lake Constance are also likely to feel the lack of water. The current water level is 3.30 meters. This is only around ten centimeters away from the seasonal record for low water. The authority assumes that the previous lowest value for this season of 3.17 meters from the years 1949 and 1876 "will be reached or even fallen below" in summer or autumn if little rain continues to fall.

If you actually wanted to tour the blue area by boat, you should probably switch to a bike these days. It would be dry enough in many places. According to the harbor master in Konstanz, around a third of the boats at the approximately 400 berths either had to be relocated or taken out of the water because otherwise they would have run aground. A similar picture on the island of Reichenau: around 50 of the more than 260 boats in the harbor were taken out of the water. Much to the annoyance of some owners.

The US research center World Resources Institute already showed in 2019 in the so-called World Risk Atlas which countries suffer particularly from so-called water stress. Almost a quarter of the world's population lives in countries with an extreme risk of drought. The situation is particularly critical in 17 countries, primarily in the Middle East and Africa. But dark red spots are also glowing in Europe, indicating that water scarcity is approaching zero hour levels, when running water will no longer be available. The whole of Italy, parts of Spain, Portugal, France and also Germany are affected. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 44 million Europeans will be affected by water shortages by 2070. Rivers in central and southern Europe could then carry up to 80 percent less water.

Droughts were already a political issue in the 1990s – within the EU, but also worldwide. In 1992, the European Economic Commission passed the so-called Water Convention. The international treaty regulates the protection of inland waters at national level. Finally, in 2014, the UN Convention on Waters came into force. It regulates the use, development and management of transboundary inland waterways between different states in order to prevent conflicts. The convention has been ratified by more than 35 countries, including Germany.

Austria and Hungary recently announced that they would intensify their water supply cooperation. In July, Hungary's foreign minister and the governor of Burgenland signed a declaration of intent. Among other things, it provides for water supplies from the Hungarian Moson-Danube to Lake Neusiedl.

In particularly affected southern European countries, the governments are currently trying to prevent the worst with water bans. In southern France, for example, it has been forbidden for weeks to wash cars with drinking water, fill the pool or water the gardens. In Nice, tap water may not be used for cooking or brushing your teeth. In France there is a four-stage emergency plan for such periods of drought. The same applies in Portugal. 97 percent of the country is affected by droughts. Among other things, cars are no longer allowed to be washed there. The Portuguese government wants to use 200 million euros from the European recovery plan to increase water efficiency.

In Italy, the government is using money to modernize the ailing pipeline system. So far, 40 percent of tap water is lost in it. In the short term, Rome also provided 35 million euros to send trucks with drinking water to the north and relieve the companies affected. In Spain, the government has mobilized 21 billion euros for the modernization of the irrigation systems. According to a draft that has been available since April, a national council is to be formed to combat desertification and draw up plans to regenerate dried-up areas. In addition, the government is planning sustainable management of the forests.

Sources:WWF report, European Union factsheet, "Nature Geoscience", World Resources Institute, ORF, "Der Standard", Wirtschaftswoche, "Handelsblatt", DPA

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