France faces ‘most severe drought’ in history, PM says

French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne warned on Friday that France is facing the “worst drought” on record in the country and announced the activation of a government crisis unit.

Borne said many areas in France are experiencing a “historic situation” as the country faces its third heat wave this summer.

“The exceptional drought we are currently experiencing is robbing many municipalities of water and is a tragedy for our farmers, our ecosystems and biodiversity,” she said in a statement.

Weather forecasts suggest that heat, which increases evaporation and water needs, could persist for the next 15 days, potentially making the situation even more worrisome, the statement points out.

The government’s crisis unit will monitor the situation in the worst affected areas and coordinate measures such as bringing drinking water to some places.

A fisherman stands on cracked and dry earth on the shores of Lake Le Broc on Friday as a historic drought hits France. (Eric Gaillard/Reuters)

It will also monitor the impact of the drought on French energy production, transport infrastructure and agriculture.

The drought could force French energy giant EDF to cut electricity production at nuclear power plants, which use river water to cool reactors.

Drinking water the priority

France now has 62 regions with restrictions on water use due to the lack of rain.

This photo taken on Thursday shows a pharmacy sign with a temperature of 39°C in Wittenheim, France. On Friday, French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne said the country is facing the worst drought in its history. (Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images)

The minister for ecological transition, Christophe Béchu, said during a visit to southeastern France that more than 100 municipalities can no longer supply drinking water at the tap and must be supplied by truck.

“The worse the situation is, the more we prioritize drinking water compared to other uses,” he said.

The month of July was marked by a record shortage of precipitation in France. With just 9.7 millimeters of rain according to the national weather agency Meteo France, rainfall was 84 percent lower than average figures for the same month over the past three decades.

A woman uses an umbrella to protect herself from the sun’s rays in a square in Paris on Wednesday. (Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters)

According to Meteo France, July 2022 was the second driest month since the measurements started in 1958-1959.

Farmers across the country report greater difficulty feeding livestock due to a lack of fresh grass and note a drop in yields, especially in fields that are not irrigated and in crops that require a lot of water, such as maize.

Record heat in July for Portugal

The Portuguese weather service also reported on Friday that the country experienced the warmest July ever last month.

Farmer Christophe Trufault checks a dried corn field in Courcemont, France, on Wednesday. (Jean-Francois Monier/AFP/Getty Images)

The heat exacerbated Portugal’s own drought, with 45 percent of the mainland in “extreme drought” – the highest classification – and the rest in “severe” drought, the second highest, by the end of July.

Many other parts of western Europe also witnessed scorching conditions in early summer, and scientists say climate change will continue to make the weather more extreme.

According to experts, the climate in Southern Europe is changing and is starting to resemble that of North Africa.

The Portuguese Weather Service, known by its acronym IPMA, said July was the warmest since the national records started in 1931.

The average temperature was 25.14 C, it said. That was almost three degrees higher than the expected July average.

National rainfall measured 3 millimeters, which was about 22 percent of the normal amount, the IMPA said.

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