Europe is being swept by an intense heat wave and drought that has had tragic consequences for farmers and ecosystems already battered by climate change and pollution.
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Drought is causing agricultural produce and other food to be lost as food shortages and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have caused inflation to spike.
In France, which is hit by the worst drought on record, flames have devoured pine forests overnight, illuminating the skies of the Gironde with an intense orange light. The region had already been devastated last month. Some 70 square kilometers have gone up in smoke since Tuesday.
The French fires led to the evacuation of around 10,000 people and destroyed around 15 houses.
Along the Oder River, which flows north from the Czech Republic to the Baltic Sea, volunteers collect dead fish that have washed ashore in Poland and Germany.
Piotr Nieznanski, from the Polish branch of the environmental group WWF, explained that a toxic chemical has apparently been released into the water by a company, and that the low water level is making the situation even more perilous for fish. .
“A tragic event is taking place along the Oder River, an international river, and there is no transparency about what is happening,” he said, calling for a government investigation.
Residents have been warned not to have any contact with the water.
The Polish water management agency said drought and high temperature can lead to ecological disaster even with low levels of pollution, but the source of the problem has not yet been identified.
Fish deaths in drought
In northern Serbia, the dry bed of the Conopljankso reservoir is now littered with dead fish that did not survive the drought.
In Germany, the level of the Rhine threatens to drop so low that it could become difficult to transport goods such as coal and gasoline there.
The flames are also burning in a national park in Portugal’s highest hills, the Serra da Estrela. Some 1,500 firefighters, 476 vehicles and 12 aircraft have been deployed to battle the blaze 250 kilometers northeast of Lisbon, but strong winds, 2,000-meter peaks and deep ravines are complicating operations. A hundred square kilometers of land were charred.
In the UK, where the mercury hit a record 40.3 degrees Celsius in July, the weather agency issued a new ‘extreme heat’ warning from Thursday to Sunday, with thermometers that could show 36?.
It’s been one of the driest summers on record for the south of the country, and the Met Office warns the risk of wildfires is ‘exceptional’ over the next few days.
London firefighters said they fought 340 grass, rubbish or meadow fires in the first week of August, eight times more than at the same time last year. A spokesman has warned that the London lawn is a powder keg and the slightest spark could spell disaster.
In Switzerland, drought and heat are threatening fish populations, and officials have begun moving fish from near-dried streams.
In Hausen, in the canton of Zurich, officials caught hundreds of fish, many of them brown trout, in the Heischerbach, Juchbach and Muehlebach streams this week. The fish were first anesthetized with an electric shock and then placed in an oxygenated tank. They were then released into streams that contain enough water.
Possibly the only positive aspect of the situation, say the Swiss authorities, is that the heat and the melting snow could make it possible to find people who have been missing in the mountains for a few years. The wreckage of a plane and at least two skeletons have been spotted in the canton of Valais, according to the local press.
Spanish trucks, some of which loaded with perishable goods, heading for France had to turn back when the fire led to the closure of certain border crossings.
France is swept this week by its fourth heat wave of the year. The government says it is the worst drought on record. The mercury is expected to reach 40 degrees Celsius on Thursday.