10 French départments on alert for drought as early heatwave forecast

This week's uncommonly early heatwave has placed 10 French départements on alert for drought.

10 French départments on alert for drought as early heatwave forecast
Drought ground in Bastelicaccia, Corsica in August 2021. (Photo by Pascal POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP)

With temperatures reaching up to 30C in some parts of France this week, experts warn that the heatwave, remarkably early for the summer season, could bring on drought.

As a result, water restrictions have been put into place for 10 French départements, with a 15 total under close observation.

Drought alerts and water restrictions are common in France over the summer, but this is unusually early.

The 10 départments who have risen above the threshold for ‘alert’ are Maine-et-Loire, Vienne, Deux-Sèvres, Charente-Maritime, Charente, Ain, Drôme, Alpes-Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhône and Vaucluse.

A map provided by the Environment Ministry showing zones impacted by water restrictions.

The map by Propluvia shows départements based on grey, yellow, orange, and red. Grey zones (“vigilance”) are to be monitored, whereas yellow zones have risen to the threshold of requiring water restrictions.

These might include specified times for watering the garden or washing the car. Golf courses and public green spaces such as parks will also have restrictions on water usage, and farmers will have water restrictions in place up to three days a week.

If an area is shaded orange, that means it is considered a “reinforced alert zones.” This would mean cutting water usage by at least 50 percent for agricultural purposes (the equivalent of about 3.5 days a week), and implementing stronger limitations on citizens’ water usage for gardens, green spaces, golf courses, or car washing.

Red zones have reached the point of “crisis,” meaning a full stop to non-priority water usage. If a zone also has stripes, that means there is a specific alert regarding groundwater.

READ MORE: MAP: Where in France has water restrictions in place

After an already dry year, the fourth driest in France since 1959, experts worry the heat will accentuate already dry soil, which is cause for concern for French farmers.

Ten days of summer heat, at this time of year “is quite rare” said climate specialist Paul Marquis to French daily Le Parisien.  In fact, some regions will experience between temperatures of eight to 10C higher than average seasonal temperatures. In total, thus far in 2022 in France, it has rained 35 percent less than last year.

However, this early heat wave is not specific to France. Many other parts of the world are experiencing similar weather patterns, with at least 20 million people in East Africa at risk of famine.

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French riviera: Unesco tsunami warning for Marseille and Cannes

Unesco has announced that the Mediterranean - including the French cities of Marseille and Cannes - will be at risk of tsunamis within the next 30 years, and therefore has included it in its tsunami protection program

French riviera: Unesco tsunami warning for Marseille and Cannes

The risk of tsunamis in the Mediterranean Sea is real – on October 16th, 1979, a tsunami, caused by a landslide, hit the coast of Nice and killed a dozen people. More recently, the Greek island of Samos in the Aegean Sea was hit by a tsunami in 2020.

But the climate crisis and rising sea levels mean that experts fear that in the future they will no longer be rare events along the Mediterranean coast.

Unesco has therefore announced that it will be adding thousands of communities to its Tsunami Ready Plan, including the French cities of Marseille and Cannes.

Experts fear that tsunamis in the Mediterranean could reach up to a metre in height and are almost guaranteed in the next 30 years.

According to Unesco’s calculations, “there is a 100% chance” that tsunamies will occur in the Mediterranean “over the next thirty years.” Therefore, the UN organisation has called for public authorities to institute their multistep programme, which would encourage awareness, warning, and prevention mechanisms for at-risk coastal communities. 

The preparedness program seeks to ensure that these cities and towns, like Marseille and Cannes, will have the necessary response mechanisms in place by 2030.

The Tsunami Ready program, which has already been piloted in dozens of communities across the Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Ocean regions and was prepared by Unesco experts, establishes twelve indicators to be respected by the communities concerned. This means that Marseille and Cannes will be expected create plans for identifying tsunamis threats and build community awareness and preparation for how to cope with tsunamis.

The twelve readiness indicators are shown in the graphic below:

Communities must meet all 12 indicators, which cover Assessment, Preparedness, and Response, will be recognized as ‘Tsunami Ready’ by the UNESCO/IOC.

Tsunamis are usually caused by seismic activity (78 percent of them) – like the deadly Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 that killed over 210,000 people, but 10 percent are also caused by volcanic activity and landslides, like the tsunami that hit the Pacific island of Tonga in January. Meanwhile, the rare 2 percent are caused by meteorological activity.

However, the increased concern for tsunamis along France’s Mediterranean coast is in part due to rising sea levels (resulting from the climate crisis) and the need to better monitor underwater volcanos.

Rising sea levels can lead to an increase in the power of tsunamis – up to tenfold. In some parts of the world, such as Macao, scientists estimate that  tsunamis will have twice their current impact by 2050.

Even a tsunami of 50cm high can do a lot of damage – what sounds like a small flow of water is actually capable of lifting a car and depositing it several dozen meters away.