Europe is glaring at the risk of food scarcity as prolonged drought dries up rivers. Experts warn that the current drought will dwindle food production, compounding the food security problem created by the Russia-Ukraine war. Europe experienced one of the longest droughts in recent years, running since May this year. The long drought has visibly taken a toll on rivers and is now threatening the livelihoods of many.

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In France, River Loire has dropped to the extent that it can be crossed on foot. Similar scenarios are replicated across Europe with major rivers dropping to historic lows. In Germany for instance, it is feared that the Rhine River could close to commercial traffic due to water levels.

Related: Warning messages on river beds as Europe drought worsens

Italy’s Po River, on the other hand, has dropped to the level of exposing World War II artifacts buried on the bed of the river. Just weeks ago, warning messages dating back hundreds of years appeared on river beds across Europe. The messages clearly warn that when rivers start dropping to such low levels the worst should be expected. 

“We haven’t seen this level of drought in a very long time. The water levels in some of the major waterways are lower than they have been in decades,” said Matthew Oxenford, senior analyst of Europe and climate policy at The Economist Intelligence Unit. “For some of the main channels, there’s very little leeway, sometimes less than 30 centimeters of leeway before the channel is completely inoperable for any sort of shipping.”

According to the European Union’s Joint Research Center, Europe is facing what could be the worst drought in at least 500 years. Global Drought Observatory report said in early August that about two-thirds of Europe was facing some sort of drought. The prolonged drought has now led to the drying of rivers and stress on vegetation. Forecasts for grains such as maize, soybeans and sunflowers are expected to be 16%, 15% and 12% below the average respectively compared to the past five years.

“If you grow up in central Europe, people usually like the sun — but now we hope for rain,” said Axel Bronstert, professor of hydrology and climatology at the University of Potsdam in Germany. “Without really strong rainfall in the next few weeks, the probability that the water levels will further decline is high.”


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