Hundreds of years ago, early Europeans hit with a devastating drought thought up a way to warn future generations of what could happen if river levels dropped to a dangerous level: they carved messages into exposed boulders.
One stone recently found embedded in the Elbe River, which runs from the Czech Republic through Germany to the North Sea, dates to a drought in 1616. The warning reads, “Wenn du mich seehst, dann weine” – “If you see me, weep.”
The so-called “hunger stone” at the Czech town of Decin, near the German border, is one of dozens in central European rivers like the Elbe, Rhine, Danube and Mosel, warning of the famine/ hardship likely to follow each time they became visible.
The hunger stones last emerged during Europe’s 2018 drought, and this year the same phenomenon is happening. Only it’s not just rocks that are showing up in the receding waters, but the remains of ancient buildings/ relics/ infrastructure, World War II-era ships and bombs, and in the southwestern US, the macabre discovery of dead bodies.
This is hardly surprising in Europe, which is currently suffering its worst drought in 500 years. AccuWeather reports nearly half of the continent (47%) is experiencing drought conditions, with another 17% under a drought alert, meaning vegetation is showing signs of stress.
As of Monday, Aug. 29, Spain, Portugal, France and the UK all saw temperatures soar over 40 degrees Celsius, with the Iberian Peninsula experiencing a string of days with maximum temps above 35C.
According to the Spanish Meteorological Service, July was the hottest month ever recorded in Spain, and one of the three warmest Julys on record, globally. In Madrid, for example, rainfall from May through Aug. 28 was only 7% of average.
The hot weather has caused widespread and highly unusual evaporation on some of Europe’s major rivers.
A number of fascinating items have emerged from the receding river waters. They include:
Along with unveiling hidden artifacts, ancients forts, cities and WW2-era military equipment, the drought has also affected food production. Only half of France’s corn crop is in good or excellent condition, as the country experiences its worst dry spell on record. The European Union forecasts that corn yields this year could drop by nearly a fifth, adding to food inflation and boosting feed costs for farmers, who are already plagued with exceptionally high diesel and fertilizer prices.
The trading bloc says that compared with the average of the previous five years, harvests are down 16% for grain maize, 15% for soybeans and 12% for sunflowers.
Making matters worse for farmers, on Aug. 28 Zero Hedge reported that a wave of ammonia-plant shutdowns due to soaring natural gas prices has resulted in a fertilizer crunch that is worsening by the week, with as much as 70% of production offline.
The lack of rainfall has also meant that less freight can be transported, leading to shipping delays on the Rhine and higher costs. One source found that boats are only being loaded to 30-40% capacity, to avoid running aground, and that the disruption could knock up to half a percentage point off Germany’s economic growth.
The drought too has worsened Europe’s energy crisis, brought about by cuts to Russian natural gas shipments owing to the war in Ukraine. According to the BBC, low water levels have caused hydropower generation in Spain to drop by 44%, and 20% overall. Some nuclear power plants in France have had to reduce output because rivers have been too low and warm to cool the plants.
The latest report from the Global Drought Observatory, via the BBC, warns that nearly all of Europe’s rivers have dried up to some extent, and that the situation is worsening in several countries including Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Romania, Hungary, northern Serbia, Ukraine, Moldova, Ireland and the UK.
As for how long the drought could last, the report says several months more in Europe’s southern regions and at least until November along the European Mediterranean.
Beyond Europe, a long hot summer has resulted in severe drought conditions in the south-central and south-western United States, China and the Horn of Africa.
A brutal heat wave in the world’s most populous country on Aug. 19 triggered a nationwide drought alert because it was anticipated that the ongoing hot weather in the southwest will last well into September, Business Insider said. On Aug. 21, China’s four-tiered weather warning system for extreme heat issued a red alert for the 10th day in a row, according to the Chinese news agency People’s Daily.
Meanwhile, decades of economic and population growth have pushed northern China’s water system to unsustainable levels. According to a recent report by Foreign Affairs, via Zero Hedge, the per-capita water supply around the North China Plain at the end of 2020 was nearly 50% below the UN’s definition of acute water scarcity at 253 cubic meters. Other major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, are at similar (or lower) levels.
For comparison, Egypt had per-capita freshwater resources of 570 cubic meters, and has nowhere near as large of a manufacturing base as China.
Also worrisome, is that 19% of China’s surface water is not fit for human consumption according to China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment. Roughly 7% was deemed unfit for any use at all.
Groundwater was worse – with around 30% considered unfit for consumption, and 16% unfit for any use.
Drought has also been declared in the Horn of Africa, where more than 18 million people in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya face severe hunger after four consecutive years of lower-than-average rainfall.
The World Economic Forum says a combination of climate change, armed conflicts, rising food and fuel prices and the impact of covid-19 are factors behind the crisis. The war in Ukraine has resulted in a lowering of crucial wheat and fertilizer shipments to the Horn of Africa. At the same time, the drought has had a devastating effect on farming, states the WEF, with millions of livestock deaths and significant drops in food production because of failed harvests. The UN says the cost of an average food basket has risen by 66% in Ethiopia and by 36% in Somalia, leaving many people unable to afford even basic items.
Previously we reported on the June “heat dome” that settled over much of the United States. Heat advisories stretched from Central Texas east to Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia and by mid-June, nearly one-third of the US population was under a heat advisory.
We also covered the disturbing “deadpool” trend.
Lake Mead, America’s largest manmade reservoir, and a source of water for millions, in April fell to an unprecedented low. Mead has been shrinking amid a 22-year mega-drought (it’s actually the worst drought in 1,200 years) and is currently just one-third full.
According to NASA Earth Observatory, at the end of July the elevation at Hoover Dam was 325 meters above sea level, the lowest since April 1937 when the lake was still being filled. This is 40 meters lower than at the end of July 2000.
Business Insider reported that for the first time in 40 years, parts of the Rio Grande ran dry in the last week of July.
Like in Europe, the low water levels are telling secrets that have been hidden for decades. CBS News reported this week that missing persons cases have re-opened after human remains surfaced in the receding Lake Mead reservoir on five separate occasions — along with a sunken World War II-era boat and schools of dead fish.
Authorities in Las Vegas reportedly identified bones found along part of Lake Mead’s newly exposed shoreline as the remain of a 42-year-old man presumed to have drowned 20 years ago. Coroner’s investigators are also working to identify a man killed by a gunshot after his remains were found in a rusted barrel, as well as partial human skeletal remains found July 25 and Aug. 6 near a swimming area.
NASA notes the low water level comes at a time when 95% of the land in nine Western states is affected by some level of drought — 64% is classified as extreme or worse.
West Virginia is currently the only state on the latest US Drought Monitor, below, to be completely free of drought.
.Severe drought is forcing many US farmers to destroy their crops. Citing a 15-state survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation, an Epoch Times article reported in August that 37% of farmer are plowing through and killing existing crops because they won’t reach maturity, due to the dry conditions. This compares to 24% in 2021. One-third of respondents said they were destroying and removing orchard trees and other multi-year crops, almost double last year’s 17%.
They expect average crop yields to drop 38% this year due to drought, with the biggest reductions in Texas (-68%), Oklahoma (-60%) and New Mexico (-54%).
“It’s extremely tough right now. We’ve been through lots of droughts before, but this one is unprecedented. You always get little showers off and on. But we haven’t had any showers to speak of at all. That’s the difference with this one,” Kyle Foster, a cattleman from Cross Plains, Texas, told The Epoch Times.
Dried-up rivers and alarmingly low reservoir levels are manifestations of climate change.
Heat, that is getting worse every year and in some parts of the world is becoming literally unbearable, is inextricably linked to droughts and fresh water loss. Here’s how it works: a lack of precipitation in the mountains from a new or prolonged drought leads to a low snow pack, lessening the annual freshet that fills up rivers, that convey fresh water into lakes and reservoirs. If this cycle continues year after year, hydro-electric power generation is imperilled, because the reservoirs are too low, as well as nuclear power generation that depends on vast amounts of water to run water-cooled nuclear reactors. This leads to blackouts, when residents and businesses who are running their air-conditioning full tilt to get some relief from the scorching heat, find the grid is overwhelmed. In future, there simply won’t be enough water to supply the amount of electricity required.
Meanwhile, our global food supply, already in jeopardy due to the war in Ukraine, and drought conditions in many parts of the world, is likely to become even more tenuous.
Remember, heat waves, which are expected to become more frequent and more intense, could cause up to 10 times more crop damage than is currently projected. The United States experienced about $12 billion in crop losses last year, of which 82% was due to drought and wildfires.
The remarkably small global resource of fresh water — only 0.007% of water is available for drinking, feeding or fueling — is in serious peril due to climate change, increased demand and polluted water supplies.
According to the UN, demand for water is expected to grow 55% by 2050, with most of the need (70%) driven by irrigation, to feed the expanding global population, expected to hit 10 billion by 2050. Water for energy use is forecast to rise by 20%.
The supply won’t be enough to satisfy everyone. By 2025, 1.8 billion people will live in areas where water is scarce, and two-thirds will be residents in water-stressed regions, reports National Geographic. Read more
Between extreme heat and a lack of fresh water, areas of planet Earth may soon become inhabitable, putting an even greater strain on existing finite natural resources, and increasing competition for them.
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