Wednesday 10 August 2022 02:10 PM The Rhine runs DRY and becomes impassable to crucial coal barges as Europe ... trends now
Germany's most-important river is running dry as Europe suffers through a drought that is on course to become its worst in 500 years, with terrifying wildfires burning once again in France.
Water levels in the Rhine - which carries 80 per cent of all goods transported by water in Germany, from its industrial heartlands to Dutch ports - are now so low that it could become impassable to barges later this week, threatening vital supplies of oil and coal that the country is relying upon as Russia turns off the gas tap.
The Rhine is already lower than it was at the same point in 2018, when Europe suffered its last major drought. That year, the river ended up closing to goods vessels for 132 days, almost triggering a recession. Costs to transport goods by river this year have already risen five-fold as barges limit their capacity to stay afloat.
Economists estimate the disruption could knock as much as half a percentage point off Germany's overall economic growth this year, with experts warning the country was facing recession due to an energy crisis even before the drought hit.
Andrea Toreti, senior researcher at the European Commission's Joint Research Centre, said: 'We haven't analysed fully [this] event, but based on my experience I think that this is perhaps even more extreme than in 2018.
'2018 was so extreme that looking back at this list of the last 500 years, there were no other events similar.'
Meanwhile wildfires are once again ripping their way across France, torching an area that was already badly-hit as temperatures soared to record levels last month.
Transport vessels cruise past the partially dried riverbed of the Rhine river in Bingen, Germany, amid the ongoing droughts
Bone dry: Almost half of EU land is currently under a drought warning or worse because of a combination of heatwaves and a 'wide and persistent' lack of rain, experts have warned. A map (pictured) reveals the countries most at risk. Areas in orange are under 'warning' conditions, while 15 per cent of land has moved into the most severe 'alert' state (shown in red)
House boats are perched on a drying side channel of the Waal River due to drought in Nijmegen, in the Netherlands
The droughts are not only affecting Germany, with Spain, southern France, Portugal and most of Italy suffering from the shortages
A view of a river bed that is almost dry due to low water levels of the Waal River in Nijmegen, Netherlands
The resulting bottlenecks are another drag on Europe's largest economy, which is grappling with high inflation, supply chain disruptions and soaring gas prices
With parts of the UK experiencing the driest conditions since the drought of 1976, experts have warned that the source of the River Thames has dried up for the first time on record.
The source of the river was originally just outside Cirencester, according to The Rivers Trust.
However, following a continuous period of dry weather, it is now more than five miles downstream, near Somerford Keynes.
Worryingly, the Met Office has warned of 'very little meaningful rain' on the horizon - with conditions now so extreme that a hosepipe ban affecting one million people across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight will come into force at 5pm today.
Speaking to The Guardian, Dr Rob Collins, director of policy and science at The Rivers Trust, explained: 'Following the prolonged dry weather, the source of the Thames in Gloucestershire has dried up, with a weak flow now only just about discernible more than 5 miles downstream (at Somerford Keynes).
'Under our changing climate we can anticipate the frequency and severity of such periods of drought and water scarcity to intensify, with increasing competition for a dwindling resource and devastating impacts on aquatic life.'
The Met Office has warned there is 'very little meaningful rain' on the horizon for parched areas of England as temperatures are set to climb into the 30s next week.
While it could mean another heatwave - when there are above-average temperatures for three days or more - it is likely conditions will be well below the 40C (104F) seen in some places last month.
Since Tuesday, the so-called Landiras blaze in Gironde - near Bordeaux - has burned 15,000 acres of pine forest and forced the evacuation of almost 6,000 people.
'The fire is extremely violent and has spread to the Landes department' further south, home of the Landes de Gascogne regional park, the prefecture said in a statement. Local authorities of the wine-growing Gironde department said 500 firefighters were mobilised.
The prefecture warned the fire was spreading toward the A63 motorway, a major artery linking Bordeaux to Spain.
Speed limits on the highway have been lowered to 55 mph in case smoke starts to limit visibility, and a full closure could be ordered if the fire worsens and continues to spread.
The Landiras fire that ignited in July was the largest of several that have raged this year in southwest France, which like the rest of Europe has been buffeted by record drought and a series of heat waves over the past two months.
Fires were also raging on Tuesday in other parts of the country.
One broke out in the southern departments of Lozere and Aveyron, where close to 600 hectares have already burnt and where Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin is due to go later in the day.
Another fire is in the Maine et Loire department in western France, where 1,600 acres have been scorched and 500 are threatened, according to