What happens when it doesn’t rain can currently be seen in Italy. The Po – the largest river in the country – resembles a village stream in places. In the past few weeks it has reached its lowest winter level since 1972. In some places you can even cross the otherwise raging river on foot. After well over 100 days, it rained again at the weekend, but that will hardly be enough.
The Po Valley, a particularly important agricultural region, would need significant rainfall. Because last month there was 92 percent less precipitation than usual, which meant that the water level was temporarily lower than in August. “I can’t remember a comparable winter time. We haven’t had any rain at all since December 8,” a mayor from the Piedmont region told British newspaper The Guardian.
In another village, the water supply was even cut off from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. This is the only way to wash and cook during the day. In the eastern part, the Po even released a German Wehrmacht car from World War II that had been missing for decades.
Italians ask God for rain
The lack of water in Italy is not only reaching historical proportions, it is also causing some believers to see only one way out: asking God for help. According to the Italian media, there were special processions in some villages to invoke heavenly blessings. This was last the case decades ago.
Other European countries are also struggling with the lack of precipitation. In north-west Spain, drought has caused the once submerged ghost village of Aceredo to reappear. Since 1992 it was covered by a reservoir, but now the skeletons of the houses are visible and an attraction for tourists.
Last March can also be summed up in this way: the sun is shining, nature is suffering. Since records began in 1951, no March has been sunnier, as the German Weather Service (DWD) announced last week. On average, the sun shone for 235 hours – theoretically ten days in a row.
“Dry periods occur more frequently and perhaps also more severely”
If you look at the statistics for the years 1991 to 2020, the north-east of Germany is particularly affected: from mid-March to mid-May there is no rain on average for 40 days. April, April, does what he wants? That was once. The realization that it rains too little is not new.
“Unfortunately, we have to assume that dry periods will occur more frequently and perhaps more severely with global warming,” explained Tobias Fuchs from the DWD at the climate press conference. Above all, the increasing drought in spring is a problem. Because when the plant world wakes up after the winter season, it needs a lot of water. However, if this is not available, this could have drastic consequences for the vegetation.
Eight out of ten trees are damaged
The German Nature Conservation Union (Nabu) is also concerned. In the meantime, eight out of ten trees in our forests have been damaged, according to the head of biodiversity, Till Hopf, to the Tagesspiegel. The main cause of tree damage is drought. The weakened forests, in turn, are more susceptible to pests and less resistant to storms.
“In addition, drought increases the risk of forest fires and accelerates the decomposition of soil humus, which releases greenhouse gases,” explains Hopf. What that means? Climate change leads to drought and drought accelerates climate change – a vicious circle.
Hopf also warns that heavy rainfall could lead to floods after a dry period. According to experts, this also played a role in last year’s natural disaster in the Ahr Valley. Because of the dry ground, the trees were less strongly rooted and could therefore be carried away more easily. The water then accumulated on the surrounding tree trunks before it devastated the villages like tidal waves.
12.7 billion euros in damage
A lack of rain also affects wildlife. For example, frogs and toads do not set out on their spring migration when it is too dry. “This is serious because the animals are dependent on small bodies of water, ponds and puddles during the spawning season,” says Hopf. If the development continues, it could even lead to regional species extinction.
Due to the low rainfall, animals also lose vital drinking and bathing places. “If plants dry up due to the lack of rain, there is less food for the animals,” explains Kirsten Schröter from the German Forestry Council (DFWR) of this newspaper. Schröter also fears that the drought may mean that forest floors can no longer filter water. The consequence of this is a complex and expensive drinking water treatment.
But the lack of rain is already causing considerable financial damage. “Overall, financial losses of around 12.7 billion euros have already occurred in the dry years,” said Schröter. Despite the alarming developments, farmers assure that the German food supply is still guaranteed. However, there could be occasional lower crop yields.