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Southern Europe braces for climate change-fuelled summer of drought

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Southern Europe is braced for a summer full of ferocious dry weather. Some regions are already experiencing water shortages, and farmers expect their lowest yields in years.

Climate change is making the region hotter, and years of droughts have depleted the groundwater reserves. In Spain, southern France and Italy, the soils are bone dry. Low river and reservoir level are threatening hydropower production this summer.

Scientists warn that Europe will experience another brutal summer as temperatures rise. Last year, Europe experienced its hottest on record, which fueled a drought European Union scientists said was the worse in at least 500 years.

Spain has been the worst affected by the crisis so far this year.

Jorge Olcina is a professor of geography at the University of Alicante in Spain. He said that "the situation of drought will worsen this summer".

At this stage, there's also little chance that rain will resolve the drought. Olcina explained that at this time of year, "the only thing we could have is localized storms which would not solve the deficit in rainfall".

In a letter to the European Commission on April 24, Spain's agriculture minister Luis Planas requested emergency EU assistance. He warned that "the consequences of this drought are so severe that they cannot be addressed with national funds alone".

CLIMATE CHANGE TREND

Southern Europe isn't the only region that has been hit by severe water shortages in this year. The Horn of Africa has experienced its most severe drought in decades. Meanwhile, a historic drought hit Argentina's soy and corn crop.

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Scientists have predicted that climate change will cause more frequent and severe droughts in the Mediterranean region, where temperatures are now 1.5C warmer than they were 150 years ago.

Hayley Fowler is a Professor of Climate Change Impacts, Newcastle University. She said, "In terms the climate change signals, it fits very well with what we expect."

The preparation for these long-held predictions is still lagging. Many farming areas have not yet adopted water-saving techniques like precision irrigation, or switched to drought-resistant crops such as sunflowers.

According to the government website Propluvia, France has experienced its driest Winter since 1959. Drought "crisis alerts" have already been activated in four prefectures, restricting water withdrawals for non-priority uses, including agriculture.

Portugal is also experiencing an early appearance of the drought. About 90% of Portugal's mainland is experiencing drought. A severe drought affects one-fifth, which is five times more than the area reported just a year ago.

In Spain, where rainfall was less than half the average through April of this year, thousands rely on trucks to deliver drinking water. Regions such as Catalonia have implemented water restrictions .

Farming groups reported that some farmers had already experienced crop losses of up to 80%. Cereals and oilseeds were among the crops affected.

Pekka Pesonen of the European farming association Copa-Cogeca said that Spain had suffered the worst harvest loss in decades. "It is worse than last year."

According to the Commission, Spain produces half the EU's olives and a third of its fruits.

Last week, it was allocated more than €2 billion for emergency response funding. The Commission has not yet responded to its request that €450 million be taken from the EU's budget for farming subsidies.

The Commission said that it was closely monitoring the situation.

"The severe drought in Southern Europe, is especially worrying. Not only for the farmers but also because it can drive up the already high prices of consumers if EU production is substantially lower," said Miriam Garcia Ferrer, spokesperson for the Commission.

It is expected that similar struggles will be experienced in Italy where up to 80% the water used for agriculture. Italian farmers plan to reduce their plantings this year due to the thin snow cover on the mountains and low soil moisture.

Luca Brocca is the director of Research for Italy's National Research Council. He said that after two years of drought, northern Italy had a 70% deficit of snow water and a 40% deficiency of soil moisture.

These deep shortages could lead to a repeat of the summer last year, when Italy experienced its worst drought for 70 years.

"2022 was truly exceptional," said Brocca, adding: "This year also seems to be exceptional."

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