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Europe struggles with water scarcity as severe drought sweeps the continent

High in the Swiss Alps in Obwalden, the army has been called up to save the cows.

As the Alpine country’s mountain streams dry up, military helicopters were dispatched last week to transport giant water containers from the lake below to pastures to prevent cattle from dying of thirst.

“In Switzerland, we are not used to the concept of drought,” says Sonia Seneviratne, professor of land climate dynamics at ETH Zurich. “We see ourselves as this water fortress in Europe, but as glaciers shrink and summer temperatures become more extreme, that’s increasingly unrealistic.”

The water shortage is part of a severe drought that has swept across the continent from Portugal to Eastern Europe, from southern England to Italy. Scientists have blamed unusually dry winters, equally dry springs and hot summers, as part of a warming trend brought on by climate change.

The drought-affected Vue des Alpes pass above La Chaux-de-Fonds in western Switzerland © Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

Drought and extremely high temperatures across Europe – France has been gripped by a third heatwave of summer – are affecting households, industry, transport and tourism, as well as agriculture and agriculture. The dry land also provides ideal conditions for wildfires ravaging France, Portugal and other countries.

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Born on Friday activated a special crisis unit to deal with what she said was the worst drought in the country’s history. 96 department In Europe, France, where all but three regions have imposed water restrictions, about two-thirds are classified as “crisis”, according to the environment ministry.

In the western Loire Valley, cattle breeder Clement Treynor said it was the worst he or his 65-year-old father had ever experienced. Due to the heat and few months of rain, the grass on his pasture had long since wilted, and the corn used to feed the cows later this year withered in the heat that felt “like a hair dryer.”

“It’s not just the surface, the soil is dry deep down,” he explained. “The trees in the forest are falling leaves — it’s not pretty. It’s worse than 1976, which used to be the year everyone was talking about.”

Scientists believe that due to the effects of climate change, summer droughts could become the norm in Western Europe – four of the past five summers have been very dry.

“Without human-caused climate change, extreme heat events that occur once every 10 years are now occurring three times every 10 years,” Seneviratne explained. “It’s possible that within a decade, every other summer, it’s going to get worse if we don’t stop carbon emissions.”

EU European Drought Observatory latest assessment A map painted in red and orange is shown, showing that as of July 10, 13% of the EU’s territory was in a severe “alert” state and 45% in a “warning” zone – with the drought worsening since then.

The country’s surface soil moisture is the lowest on record, Meteo France said. July’s rainfall of 9.7 mm was 85% below seasonal norm and was the second driest month on record since March 1961. Western France is particularly hot, with the town of Biscarrosse hitting a local record of 42.6 degrees Celsius last month.

“If there is no heavy rain by the end of September, then there is a risk that things will become very difficult,” said Christian Huyghe, director of agricultural sciences at the French National Institute of Agronomy.

A farmer assesses damage to his cornfield during severe drought in Spino d’Adda, Italy © Piero Cruciatti/AFP/Getty Images

The Netherlands declared a nationwide water shortage this week, while Polish authorities imposed restrictions on rivers, including the Vistula, the country’s longest, where water levels have fallen to near-record lows. In Warsaw, ferry services across the Vistula were suspended for a week last month due to low water levels.

If the water level of the Rhine falls by another seven centimeters, a long section of one of Europe’s most important industrial highways will be rendered incapable of navigable freight. Lake Constance, the second largest freshwater lake in Western Europe, has only reached its level twice in recorded history – in 1949 and 1876.

Some French nuclear power plants have had to reduce output as environmental rules limit the temperature at which the wastewater used for cooling returns to the river. The drought has also reduced hydropower generation in Europe, including in the Alps.

Brussels estimated last year that drought-related losses will cost the EU about 9 billion euros a year, rising to 40 billion euros a year if global warming hits 3 degrees Celsius. Temperatures have risen by at least 1.1 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times, according to scientists.

The wreck of the ship Elizabeth, which sank in 1895, is clearly visible due to the low water level of the Rhine near the Dutch-Dutch border © Vincent Jannink/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Some Europeans have turned to heaven for help. In the hilltop village of Cagnano, on Italy’s Umbria-Tuscany border, residents gathered last month to pray for winegrowers’ patron saint, St Vincent Ferrer, to bring some much-needed rainwater.

“His intercession before God is crucial in these difficult drought days,” Father Giorgio Mariotti said in a message to the local community.

In northern France, Denis Bollengier felt the dust on his fingers as he picked potatoes from dry land on his farm in the village of Esquelbecq. “Usually when I do that, my hands get muddy,” he said, adding that his annual production could be cut in half this year.

“We are heading for disaster,” he said.

Victor Mallet in Paris, Sam Jones in Zurich, Akila Quinio in Esquelbecq, Raphael Minder in Warsaw, Silvia Sciorilli Borrelli in Milan and Alice Hancock in Brussels

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