Even if you follow the news only occasionally you’ve undoubtedly heard that large parts of America are experiencing exceptional heat and prolonged drought. But did you know that large parts of Europe are facing the same problems? While each of these developments is bad on its own, the combination makes things even worse.
“The ongoing drought in Europe is shaping up to become one of the worst in 500 years, even surpassing the 2018 drought,” scientists at the European Drought Observatory told Sky News earlier in August.
At least 47% of Europe is now classified as being in a “drought warning,” the second of the three drought categories used in that region. And at least an additional 17% has moved into the most severe stage, which means that conditions are so dry they are impacting crops.
As in the US, important waterways are drying up and have dropped to an alarming point, revealing glimpses into the past that were concealed for more than a century and in some cases for many centuries.
Among those are the “Hungersteine,” or hunger stones, boulders discovered in many European rivers with the inscribed message “If you can read this it’s time to weep.” The point is that water levels have fallen so much that it’s time to prepare for famine.
A report on Accuweather noted that “The extended heat, lack of rainfall and prolonged drought across Europe have caused multiple major rivers to dry up. Water in the Rhine River, one of the busiest waterways in the world as it flows from the Swiss Alps to the North Sea, has dropped so much that in some areas boats have to “zig zag” carefully not to get stuck on now exposed dry river bottom – land that until very recently was covered by the river.
It’s widely accepted that generous rainfall is good for economies. However, it appears that the opposite also is true, and a scarcity of rainfall can be very costly; Europe is learning all about this.
An analysis by CNN Business found that container ships will have to reduce their loads by at least 30% in order to pass obstructions that have become a problem in some major rivers.
Henri Patriot, an oil analyst at UBS, told CNN Business that water in the Rhine has dropped to the degree that is “challenging shipments of energy products.” The bottom line: Consumers and businesses should anticipate shipping delays and supply shortages for the duration of the drought.
Meanwhile, the drought in Europe is showing no signs of easing. For example, for the first time in nearly 50 years, the source of the River Thames in London has dried up, according to The Guardian.
And the Po River, the longest in Italy, also is receding and revealing long-hidden objects such as a World-War-II-era barge and a submerged bomb. But more to the point, the Po provides crucial water supplies to vast amounts of farmland and a shortage of water is threatening much of Italy’s agricultural produce. Farmers in some regions have lost up to 80% of their crops.
News services in the UK are reporting that England could experience widespread crop failures that could reach 50% for potatoes and maize, and lesser but still significant percentages for carrots, onions, beets, hops and others veggies. Water cuts just went into effect - in London of all places.
Add France to this list. Rainfall there in July was the lowest since March 1961 and wildfires are burning throughout the country. France is the world’s fourth largest wheat exporter, and the world’s food supply chain can’t handle more shocks.
Unfortunately there are more, as drought has become a major problem in other European countries too – and in other parts of the US. Despite recent heavy rains out West, much of the region remains in a megadrought, believed to be the most severe in 1,200 years.
The US Drought Monitor reports that nearly half of America is in some stage of drought, and now abnormally dry or worse conditions have spread to some parts of the East, particularly the Northeast. Among those are areas very close to our homes: Staten Island, Eastern Long Island, and Rockland County.
Conditions in Texas are so dry that many ranchers have been forced to “panic sell” their herds because there isn’t enough feed for them. And 37 percent of all agricultural farmers in the West are being forced to destroy stunted crops because of the relentless drought. Meanwhile, the government announced more water cuts as water levels in major rivers, lakes, and reservoirs continue to drop to near or new record lows.
Over the years, the US and Europe have experienced many droughts. What makes current conditions so worrisome are their intensity, duration, and the fact that they’re occurring in so many of the best farming regions of the world at the same time.
Ask a group of people why all of this is happening and you’ll probably get very different explanations. Meteorologists would say it’s because of very unusual weather patterns. Others would say climate change is at fault. And some might say it’s just bad luck.
But still others would offer a very different explanation. They would point to a pasuk (verse) in Tehillim, 107:33, which says, “Hashem turns rivers into a wilderness and springs of water into an arid place” (translation from Metsudah). People are free to do anything they want to, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a price to pay for those that anger Hashem.
The world has experienced so many strange and painful problems for so long. Let’s hope the upcoming New Year will bring all of the blessings all of us are yearning for. We sure could use them.
Sources: bloomberg.com; cnn.com; npr.com; theeconomiccollapseblog.com; theguardian.com; usdroughtmonitor.com