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Europeans' climate woes far from over

By CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-08-16 09:33
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England's blazing summer has proved too much for London's once-green lawns, with the transformation evident on Sunday in this scene from a near-empty Greenwich Park. DOMINIC LIPINSKI/PA/AP

Lower temperatures and rain have brought some relief to Europeans who have seen their region ravaged by drought and wildfires this summer, but that respite could be short-lived, according to weather monitors.

And in Spain, the pressure was as intense as ever when about 300 firefighters battled a blaze in the Aragon region on Sunday with the help of helicopters. At least 1,500 people were forced to evacuate the region, which includes a natural park and the city of Zaragoza.

Spain has experienced 388 wildfires this year, caused by heat waves and accompanying dry conditions. The fires have damaged some 262,000 hectares, the most recorded among the 27 European Union members, according to the European Forest Fire Information System, or EFFIS.

In southwestern France's Gironde region around Bordeaux, a huge fire that had flared up on Aug 9 was finally brought under control after overnight rainfall.

"We know that this offers a respite but does not signify an end to the fight. We know that if it does not rain in the next 48 to 72 hours the risk will increase considerably," said Arnaud Mendousse, of the Gironde fire and rescue service.

Firefighters from six European Union member states, including Germany, Poland, Austria and Romania, have sent teams to help control the wildfires in France.

Weather forecasts show that much of Europe would see temperatures drop considerably from Monday, with possible rain in the coming days.

In Britain, however, the focus is very much on the consequences of a prolonged dry spell. On Friday, the authorities declared a drought in parts of England as households faced new curbs on water usage. The measures loom after a summer marked by record-breaking temperatures that have kindled wildfires and tested infrastructure.

Countries such as Greece and Portugal have also experienced widespread wildfires this year.

The latest EFFIS report shows that nations within the EU are likely to witness a record wildfire season this year. The wildfires have destroyed some 660,000 hectares in the region this year, an area that is more than twice the size of Luxembourg.

In 2017, when the fire season closed out as the worst on record in Europe, about 420,000 hectares were burned across EU territory by mid-August. But wildfires in October that year pushed the total figure above 988,000 hectares.

Fresh warning

The EFFIS warned this year could set a fresh record with the fire season being far from over.

"The situation in terms of drought and extremely high temperatures has affected all Europe this year and the overall situation in the region is worrying, while we are still in the middle of the fire season," EFFIS coordinator Jesus San-Miguel told Agence France-Presse on Sunday.

As many Europeans head for their summer vacations, drought and wildfires have dominated the headlines.

In northern Italy, the Lake Garda near Verona has recorded its lowest water levels. Northern Italy has not experienced significant rainfall for months and its snowfall this year was also down 70 percent, resulting in less meltwater.

In Germany, container logistics company Contargo is suspending most of its inland shipping operations on the upper and middle sections of the Rhine River due to low water levels.

Joachim Rukwied, president of the German Farmers' Association, warned on Friday that without imminent rain, this year's harvests could be severely affected by the late-summer heat wave. He said that "if it does not rain thoroughly and soon, then we fear harvest yields could be reduced by as much as 30 or 40 percent".

In Hungary, the water levels on the Danube River dropped toward critical marks in recent weeks, while parts of Lake Velence, southwest of Budapest, dried up completely over the past week.

Barnabas Virag, deputy governor of the National Bank of Hungary, the central bank, warned that the lengthy period of drought, along with the impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict on global food supply, could push food prices higher in the coming months and exacerbate the existing inflationary pressure facing the country.

Agencies contributed to the story.

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