The anticipated drought in Europe is prone to exacerbate the water disaster within the area

A view of the drought that affected Los Bermejales reservoir at Arenas del Rey in Granada, Spain, which has reached 18% of its capacity, on May 13, 2023.

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European policymakers are struggling to get a grip on the growing water crisis before researchers fear another summer of drought triggered by the climate crisis.

Water resources in Europe are becoming increasingly scarce due to the worsening climate emergency. Record spring temperatures and an historic winter heatwave are having a visible impact on the region’s rivers and ski slopes.

Reservoirs in Mediterranean countries like Italy have dropped to water levels typically associated with summer heatwaves in recent weeks, threatening agricultural production amid protests over water shortages in both France and Spain.

This comes at a time when temperatures are set to rise over the summer and many fear Europe’s already “very precarious” water problem could get worse.

Satellite data analyzed by researchers at Austria’s University of Graz earlier in the year revealed that the drought was hitting Europe to a much greater extent than researchers had previously anticipated.

The study was released after European Union researchers found that Europe experienced its hottest summer on record last year and the severe drought was believed to be the worst the region had experienced in at least 500 years.

Researchers from the University of Graz said Europe has been suffering from a severe drought since 2018. The impact has become clear over the past year, as receding water bodies impacted food and energy production and numerous aquatic life lost their habitat.

“A few years ago I would have never thought that water would be a problem here in Europe, especially in Germany or Austria,” said Torsten Mayer-Gürr, one of the lead authors of the satellite study.

“We’re actually getting problems with the water supply here – we have to think about that.”

2022 was a “wake-up call” for policymakers

In Spain, where temperatures soared to nearly 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in April, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez warned in the same month that the drought had become one of the top long-term concerns in the southern European country.

“The Spanish government and I are aware that the debate surrounding the drought will be one of the key political and territorial debates of our country in the years to come,” Sanchez told parliament, according to the Associated Press.

Last month, the Spanish government approved a €2.2 billion ($2.4 billion) package to ease the effects of the drought on the agricultural sector.

A farmer displays a water pot while speaking about drought during a peasant demonstration in Madrid May 13 to draw attention to living conditions in the countryside and highlight the importance of agriculture to society and its contribution to the country’s economy. 2023

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Meanwhile, the European Drought Observatory warned in a special snapshot report earlier this year that late winter conditions were similar to last year, when high temperatures and a lack of rainfall led to a widespread and protracted drought that affected large parts of the continent.

The latest available data shows drought warning conditions for more than a quarter of the 27 EU countries, while 8% of the region is on drought warning.

Samantha Burgess, deputy director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, said the outlook for much of Europe this summer is “not as scary as it was a month ago”.

Because amid a particularly changeable spring that brought record-breaking April temperatures in Spain and Portugal and devastating flash floods in Italy, heavy rains in southern Europe in recent weeks have helped fill reservoirs and improve soil moisture.

However, Burgess said much of northern Europe and countries like Spain, France and Portugal to the south still looked “fairly dry”, while some researchers fear Europe could be on the way to another brutal summer.

“For water security across Europe, we really need to change the way we manage water – and I think last year’s events have really been a wake-up call for a lot of European decision-makers,” Burgess told CNBC over the phone.

Cedric Sabate, arborist, thins his trees to help them withstand water restrictions May 16, 2023 in Thuir, near Perpignan, southern France.

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A spokesman for the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, did not respond to a CNBC request for comment.

Chloe Brimicombe, a climate researcher at Austria’s University of Graz, said water scarcity is a particularly acute problem in southern Europe.

“But I think Central and Western Europe are less prepared – and in the coming years it has the potential to hit them in ways they really didn’t anticipate,” Brimicombe told CNBC over the phone.

“Europe needs to recognize that climate change affects them,” she continued.

“They like to think that climate change is having an impact on the Global South, and that’s all. And of course it affects these people much more, but it also affects Europe. Not only do they have to help the Global South, but they also have to help themselves at home — and that requires stronger mitigation and adaptation measures.”

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