Europe's water crisis: How bad is it and what can be done?

Europe's water crisis: How bad is it and what can be done?

In June Italy faced its worst drought in 70 years. The rice paddies of the river Po valley ran dry, jeopardizing the harvest of the premium rice used for risotto.

By Estelle Nilsson-Julien

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30% of the EU population has been impacted by strained water supplies in recent years. With the situation only set to get worse, what does this mean for Europe and how can it manage the situation?

Many citizens across Europe have the luxury of not worrying about how they will access water. But as the planet becomes more populated and demand for water increases - a crisis is pending. So what does this mean and how can Europe manage this precious resource?

Two litres of water is enough to satisfy a person's daily drinking needs - but it takes 3,000 litres for food. Meeting this demand is set to become increasingly challenging for agriculture irrigation, which uses up 70% of freshwater worldwide.

"We import a lot of food and so we are reliant on how water is being managed in other parts of the world", Naho Mirumachi, Professor of Environmental Politics at King's College London told Euronews. 

Some 3.6 billion people around the world already have inadequate access to water, with the Middle East and Africa most impacted by water scarcity.

“The food that we are consuming will probably have to increasingly come from other parts of the world as we will no longer be able to produce certain products in Europe because it's getting too hot”, Jippe Hoogeveen, senior land and water officer at the UN's Food and Agricultural Agency told Euronews. 

Some crops may need to be written off

Spain is one of the European countries most affected by the situation. After three years of low rainfall and high temperatures, the country’s national weather service declared a ‘long term drought’ earlier this year. Some crops may even have to be written off, the Spanish Coordinator of Famers and Ranchers Organizations has even warned.

But countries in Northern and Eastern Europe are also increasingly affected by the strain on water supplies. 

“People think that the UK is a rainy country, but actually we've been experiencing droughts as well and places like this provide important agriculture for us”, stated Naho Mirumachi.


Scarce water resources are not only a threat to agriculture - but also to the energy sector.

"As we move into a net zero clean energy era, we are moving towards things like hydropower", explained Mirumachi. "If we have less water in our rivers, it means that we won't have we won't be able to rely on hydropower".

Hydropower plants - which use water to produce electricity or to power machines - are regarded as a sustainable energy alternative fossil-fuel driven facilities do.

Population growth

As the global population is set to rise to 8.5 billion by 2030, this is driving the strain on water resources. A population which is not only growing - but also consuming more.

“There is a growing middle class and a diversified consumer. They're going to require more material goods, not just food, but also things like phones that are actually very water intensive. And so it's not just climate change that is forcing these water shortages to occur”, explained Naho Mirumachi.

Mitigating the strain on water resources means ensuring a secure supply of water for humans - while respecting the environment.

“There's going to be a knock-on effect on the ecosystems and the health of the rivers. So if you have less water, there might be less biodiversity, which is an important aspect of keeping our environment healthy,” stated Mirumachi.

What is the EU doing to prevent water shortages?

The World Meteorological Organization has warned that the world's water cycle is “spinning out of balance”, calling for a “fundamental policy shift” in its 2022 Global Water Resources report.

Since 2000 the European Union has sought to address the issue - through the Water Framework Directive - which works to ensure the quality of Europe's waters.

However, 90% of river basins in various EU countries will still be unhealthy by 2027, a report published by WWF and the Living Rivers Europe Coalition concluded. 

According to Nihat Zal, project manager at the European Environmental Agency, Europe's response has been effective - but needs to be accelerated “at different scales, at the local level, at the country level, at the EU level, so that the level of preparedness towards the risk uncertainties will also be improved.”

Source :https://www.euronews.com/2023/10/16/europes-water-crisis-how-bad-is-it-and-what-can-be-done

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