Updated Aug 10, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Drought threatens 60% of EU and U.K. as Europe faces "critical situation"

A map of drought-hit countries across the EU

Photo: European Drought Observatory

Drought conditions are affecting about 60% of the EU and the U.K., exacerbated by climate-change driven record heat across Europe this summer, according to new research from the European Drought Observatory.

Why it matters: France, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands are facing water shortages and riverbeds are drying out across Europe. Dry conditions are severely affecting energy production, agriculture and river transportation.

  • There is an "increased fire danger due to the lack of rain and the resulting dry vegetation, combined with high temperatures," the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service notes — as wildfires continue to burn across Europe.
  • In southwest France, a blaze burning in Gironde since July roared back to life, forcing the evacuation of nearly 6,000 people on Wednesday, per France 24.

Meanwhile, many European countries are expected to see continued dry conditions in August and September, adding "to the already very critical situation," noted the European Commission's European Drought Observatory in July.

  • This would "exacerbate drought severity and the impacts on agriculture, energy and water supply," the Observatory said.

The big picture: The European Drought Observatory examined data over a 10-day period toward the end of July and discovered that 45% of the EU's territory was under drought warning conditions by the middle of the month, while 15% was on "red alert" and in severe water deficiency.

In the United Kingdom, where Met Office data shows the English regions of East Anglia, the southeast and the south faced their driest ever July as a historic heat wave struck, the U.K. Center for Ecology and Hydrology warned drought conditions were likely to remain until October.

What they're saying: "Droughts have become our summer reality," tweeted Virginijus Sinkevičius, the European Commission's commissioner for environment, oceans and fisheries, on Tuesday.

  • 100 municipalities in France have no running water, the Rhine River's levels in Germany and France are so low the transportation of goods is under threat, and the Netherlands "faces an official water shortage," Sinkevičius noted.
  • "Restoring Nature is the best solution to change this," he added.

What to watch: Another searing heat wave was forecast to hit parts of western and central Europe this week into next week.

  • The Met Office has issued an amber heat warning for much of southern England and parts of Wales for Thursday through Sunday, on the heels of its first ever extreme heat warning last month. Heat alerts are also in effect across France.
  • London is forecast to see temperatures of 90°F (33°C) or above for four straight days starting Thursday, and temperatures will soar above 100°F in Spain, Portugal and parts of France through the end of the week.
  • The extreme heat will worsen the drought by drying out soils further.
  • Climate change raised the odds of and increased the severity of the previous European heat wave, and is likely a key driver of this event, which is the region's fourth this summer.

In photos: Drought devastates European landscapes

People sit on Primrose Hill in London where the grass is dry due to lack of water.
People in London on Aug. 9 sit on Primrose Hill, where the grass is dry due to lack of water. Photo: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Images via Getty Images
This photograph taken on August 9, 2022 shows a partially dried pond near Aire-sur-Adour, southwestern France.
A partly dried pond near Aire-sur-Adour, southwestern France, on Aug. 9. The French government has activated a drought crisis task force. Water restrictions have been ordered in nearly all of France's 96 mainland departments. Photo: GaizkaA Iroz/AFP via Getty Images
general view of low water level continues along the rhine river in Bad Honnef, germany on August 9.
The dry Rhine riverbed in Bad Honnef, Germany, on Aug. 9. Germany's transportation minister said that, as some ships were unable to travel across the key waterway due to low water levels this week, the river should be dredged for freight transportation, DW reports. Photo: Ying Tang/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Rocks in sight due to drought in the riverbed in Escairon, Lugo, Galicia, Spain.
Rock constructions uncovered by drought in the riverbed in Escairon, Lugo, Galicia, Spain, on Aug. 9. Spain and Portugal are experiencing their driest weather in 1,200 years, new research shows. Photo: Carlos Castro/Europa Press via Getty Images
People walk on the dried Champ de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Aug. 3 after France recorded its driest July on record.
People walk on the dried Champ de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Aug. 3 after France recorded its driest July on record. Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP via Getty Images
People sit on the dry banks of the Rhine river on August 3, 2022, in Cologne, Germany.
The dry banks of the Rhine River in Cologne, Germany, on Aug. 3. The city's Waterway and Shipping Authority said "unusually low levels" forced vessels to cut cargo loads "in order to be able to navigate the river," per the Guardian. Photo: Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

Go deeper: Earth sees a top 3 hottest July, marked by deadly heat, flash floods

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