As Europe continues to experience recording breaking heatwaves, southern France has been hit by severe drought.
Following the country’s hottest year ever in 2022, France is once again struggling to handle the heat. High temperatures and low rainfall have resulted in issues with fresh water supply across the country.
This week, over 30,000 commune inhabitants have had their water supplies disrupted. Some 67 communes are now receiving water by tanker and 18 by bottles.
Why is there a drought in France?
In June, the European Drought Agency classified a third of the continent as being in drought conditions, with 10 per cent of Europe in a state of crisis.
Other countries experiencing unusually high temperatures include Greece, Sicily, Italy and Spain, while July clocked in as the hottest month ever recorded on Earth.
The extreme weather events are being driven by the El Niño weather pattern, as well as the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on our environment.
Why is France’s water level so low?
France’s low water levels aren’t just a result of this year’s heatwave. They are the consequence of over a year’s worth of higher-than-average temperatures.
2022 was the country’s hottest year on record and was followed by an unusually dry 2023. Between 21 January and 21 February, no rain fell at all.
Though there has been some rainfall in recent months, the ground is too dry to hold onto it, meaning most of the water runs off or is absorbed by plants. As a result, it’s of little help to water tables.
Water tables are the point underground at which groundwater saturates spaces between rock and sediment below the soil’s surface. At the water table, water pressure and atmospheric pressure are equal. They’re important as they help measure aquifers (underground rock with holds water) from which we draw water to use in daily life.
Christophe Béchu, the Minister for Ecological Transition, doesn’t see that changing much “before the end of August”. Even if water tables do improve, experts think it unlikely that enough will be stored to offset what’s needed to supply drinking water.
How does the drought in France this year compare to 2022?
While this summer’s supply issues are serious, they’re not yet as bad as last year when nearly 700 divisions went without water for at least part of each day.
Béchu says that thanks to measures set up during the summer of 2022, the Ministry has been able to “anticipate that the situation [was] going to be complex".
However, projections made earlier this year suggest that France’s 2023 drought issues could end up being worse than 2022 following an exceptionally dry winter.
Where else in Europe is affected by drought?
Many countries across Europe have been experiencing rising temperatures, with Italy, Sicily, Turkey and Greece particularly hard hit.
As a result, wildfires have sprung up in numerous locations in recent months, with especially bad outbreaks in Corfu, Spain and Portugal.
While some countries are struggling with a lack of water, others are experiencing an overabundance of it. In central Europe Slovenia, Austria, Georgia and Hungary have been hit with flash floods which have destroyed buildings and bridges and swept away vehicles.