As climate change makes the region hotter and drier, years of consecutive drought have depleted groundwater reserves. Soils have become bone dry in Spain and southern France. Low river and reservoir levels are threatening this summer’s hydropower production, Reuters reported.
With temperatures climbing into summertime, scientists warn Europe is on track for another brutal summer, after suffering its hottest on record last year – which fuelled a drought European Union researchers said was the worst in at least 500 years.
So far this year, the situation is most severe in Spain.
“The situation of drought is going to worsen this summer,” said Jorge Olcina, professor of geographic analysis at the University of Alicante, Spain.
There’s little chance at this point of rainfall resolving the underlying drought, either. “At this time of the year, the only thing we can have are punctual and local storms, which are not going to solve the rainfall deficit,” Olcina said.
Southern Europe is not alone in suffering severe water shortages this year. The Horn of Africa is enduring its worst drought in decades, while a historic drought in Argentina has hammered soy and corn crops.
More frequent and severe drought in the Mediterranean region - where the average temperature is now 1.5C higher than 150 years ago – is in line with how scientists have forecast climate change will impact the region.
France is emerging from its driest winter since 1959, with drought “crisis” alerts already activated in four departmental prefects, restricting non-priority water withdrawals - including for agriculture, according to government website Propluvia.
Portugal, too, is experiencing an early arrival of drought. Some 90% of the mainland is suffering from drought, with severe drought affecting one-fifth of the country - nearly five times the area reported a year earlier.
In Spain, which saw less than half its average rainfall through April this year, thousands of people are relying on truck deliveries for drinking water, while regions including Catalonia have imposed water restrictions.