Conflict Alerts # 549, 1 September 2022
On 22 August, the Global Drought Observatory (EDO), under the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRD) released an analytical report titled “Drought in Europe, August 2022” on the drought conditions across Europe in August. The report maps the geographical extent of the 2022 drought in the continent. So far, drought hazard is increasing in Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Romania, Hungary, northern Serbia, Ukraine, Moldova, Ireland and the United Kingdom. The rest of Europe does face drought, and the dry conditions are maintained. While sporadic rains have brought relief to some regions, the associated thunderstorms and flash floods have caused damage. The report warns that warmer and drier than usual conditions are likely to occur in the western Euro-Mediterranean region till November 2022. Experts at the JRD stated that the 2022 drought could be the worst drought Europe experienced in the last 500 years
First, the geographic spread. As per the Combined Drought Indicator (CDI) report, 64 per cent of Europe is under drought warning, 47 per cent is under 'warning' conditions, and 17 per cent is under 'alert' conditions. In GDO’s July report, only nine per cent of Europe was under “alert” conditions, and 53 per cent had drought warnings. Whereas in August, the severe-to-extreme, broad, meteorological drought covered almost two-thirds of Europe, across Italy, France, Germany, southern Norway, the Balkans and Eastern Europe.
Second, worsening drought conditions. The major rivers across Europe such as the Po River in Italy, the Rhine River in Germany and Netherlands, and the Loire River in France continue to remain dried, which is impacting the water distribution, water transport and the ecosystems of the river basins. Apart from the geographic impact, all the markers determining the severity of a drought show negative values. This includes standardized precipitation index, soil moisture anomaly, and the fraction of solar radiation absorbed by plants for photosynthesis.
Third, the widespread impact. Water restrictions and rationing have been introduced in many areas across Spain, France and Italy, hampering civilian life. The droughts have also affected the energy and agriculture sectors. Reduced storage of water has impacted the energy sector for both hydropower generation and cooling systems of other power plants. Low water levels have reduced inland shipping loads further affecting coal and oil transport. In agriculture, water and heat stresses and low soil moisture have substantially reduced summer crop yields. The most affected crops are grains like maize, soyabean and sunflowers. Thus, given Europe’s impending energy crisis and the global food security crisis, these industries getting affected, hamper the broader security of the continent.
Fourth, the triggers. Europe’s continuing heatwaves, wildfires, along with dry conditions are prolonging the recovery time of the droughts. Dry air is getting heated up more easily, creating high-pressure‘ heat domes.’ These ‘heat domes’ deflect precipitation to enhance the severity of droughts. Moreover, high mid-tropospheric pressure anomalies, associated with both heatwaves and droughts, have been noticed over most of the continent. These are steering away continental weather systems that bring moist and cool air. Additionally, the atypical splitting of the jet stream into two streams has also brought in hot weather from North Africa into Europe instead of the moisture-laden winds, thus contributing to the drought condition.