Western and southern Europe are suffering and the end of summer is still a way off. Parched conditions have already caused billions of euros worth of damage as crops shrivel, rivers dry up and pastures turn to dust. A repeat of the heatwave of two years ago cannot be ruled out. While that means fears of more devastating fires, the European Commission says the Iberian peninsula faces the worst conditions of the last 30 years and the situation appears critical. EU Agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boels is visiting Portugal to assess the damage to agriculture. Among the other countries hardest hit are France, Italy, Greece and Poland. Brussels says lower water reserves in southwest France and northern Italy could slash maize harvests unless it rains soon. The heatwave of 2003 caused losses estimated at 5 billion euros across the then 15-member EU, and Portugal accounted for a fifth of that figure.
This year its cereal harvests are down 70 per cent, while there is up to 92 per cent less pasture land. Macario Carreira, president of the Algarve region, wants to increase public awareness. He says: “Rather than waste two litres of water why not waste one and keep the other for later. Because there’s no rainfall and water reserves are dropping. It’s like a piggy bank – if you keep taking without paying in, in the end you’re left with nothing.” Portugal’s dams are drying up rapidly. Just last week 75 tonnes of dead fish were taken out of one lake. In certain regions popular with tourists, the authorities are having to consider cutting the water supply.
In France, meanwhile, farmers are anxious. One said: “This plant should come up to my shoulders, but because of the lack of water, it’s only half its normal height.” In western France, water levels are at their lowest since the major drought of 1976. More than half the country has some sort of water rationing. Poland has not been spared the soaring temperatures, and the results are the same as in the rest of Europe- forest fires and a decline in agricultural production. But Portugal is bearing the brunt, with 80 per cent of the country officially suffering “extreme drought.”