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WEATHER

Whole of France on drought alert, including Paris region

The whole of metropolitan France is now affected by drought after Paris and its suburbs were placed under "vigilance".

Whole of France on drought alert, including Paris region
A banner photographed in June reads « Shortage of drinking water in Groix. Let's be vigilant » at the ferry terminal of Lorient, western France. (Photo by Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP)

The entirety of France’s metropolitan départements – all 96 – now have alerts issued for drought, after local authorities for the Paris region placed their départements on alert. There are four levels of drought restrictions, ranging from limits on agricultural usage to bans on non-essential water usage for households.

Prior to Tueday, the départements of Paris and Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis, and Val-de-Marne were the exceptions, but as of August 2nd, they have also been called to employ in water restriction measures after being added to the drought alert list as of August 2nd.

Meanwhile, Essonne, Yvelines, Val d’Oise and Seine-et-Marne départements were already affected by water restrictions. 

River levels have dropped across the country, and the Seine has not been spared. After the flow-rate of the Seine river fell under the threshold of 81 cubic metres per second (m3/s) when passing Austerlitz station on July 25th, the drought alert for Paris itself was triggered. 

The Ile-de-France region is currently on the “vigilance” level, which is the first of the four drought alert levels.

This means that individuals, local authorities and companies are encouraged, but not obliged, by the préfecture to ration their water consumption by avoiding watering green spaces and roads, washing their vehicles and/or limiting their domestic consumption.

READ MORE: MAP: Where are water restrictions in place in France and what do they mean?

The drought is expected to continue as the country prepares for another heat wave. Almost no rain is expected in the next 10 days in France, except for a few showers next Thursday and Friday in the east of the country.

Farmers nationwide are reporting difficulties in feeding livestock because of parched grasslands, while irrigation has been banned in large areas of the northwest and southeast due to freshwater shortages.

On the eastern river Rhine, which runs along the France-Germany border, commercial boats are having to run at a third of their carrying capacity in order to avoid hitting the bottom because the water level is so low.

Environment Minister Christophe Bechu said July’s rainfall represented “just 12 percent of what’s needed”.

“We have a heatwave that increases the need (for water) and a drought that is limiting what is available, pushing us into this vicious cycle,” Bechu told BFM television during a visit to the hard-hit Isere department in the southeast.

Calls to conserve water across the whole of France came after reports that the country saw its driest July on record. In France, there was just 9.7 millimetres of rain last month, Meteo France said.

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CLIMATE CRISIS

France records 10,000 excess deaths in second hottest summer on record

After the second hottest summer ever recorded in France - after 2003 - French health authorities have released data on excess deaths recorded over the season.

France records 10,000 excess deaths in second hottest summer on record

In a press release published by Santé publique France on Monday evening, the health authority noted that “multiple climatic phenomena” occurred during the summer, calling it the “hottest since 1900” with a “significant health impact.”

The data covers June to September and lists 10,420 excess deaths – that is deaths in excess of the average for the summer season.

Of those 2,816 deaths occurred during the three periods when the country was officially on heatwave alert – a 16.7 percent increase when compared to non-heatwave periods during the summer.

Experts also believe that many of the remaining 7,604 excess deaths were heat related, even if they occurred during periods when there was no heatwave warning in place.

“A part of this excess of summer mortality is probably due to the population being exposed to strong heat, even if temperatures did not reach the thresholds for heatwave alerts,” noted the report.

As expected, the worst affected were the elderly. Of the 2,816 excess deaths recorded during the three heatwave episodes this summer, 2,272 were among people aged 75 and over, i.e. nearly 80 percent of excess deaths during heatwaves.

However, all age groups were represented, as shown in the figures below. Most of the deaths across age groups occurred during the second heatwave, which was the “most intense” in terms of heat.

The impact of the pandemic

The pandemic also likely played a role in heat-related deaths. Specifically, 894 Covid-19 related deaths were recorded in hospitals and medical establishments during the heatwave episodes.

The head of Santé publique France’s “Quality of Living and Population Health” unit, Guillaume Boulanger, explained in a press conference that “Covid-19 could have increased vulnerability to heat for some people, and exposure to the heat may have worsened the condition of some patients affected by the virus.”

The excess mortality in relation to high temperatures is France’s “highest since 2003,” a year where a three-week heatwave resulted in over 15,000 deaths.

It was this heatwave, and the shock that so many elderly people were found dead in their own homes, that led to cities creating the heatwave plans that are in use today.

In addition to excess mortality, there was also a rise in non-fatal health complications across the country. Throughout the entire summer, more than 17,000 emergency room visits and 3,000 SOS Médecins consultations were recorded for hyperthermia, dehydration and hyponametria (salt deficiency resulting from dehydration).

Additionally, during heatwave periods, the number of emergency room visits and SOS Médecins consultations were two to three times higher than outside of heatwave periods.

The three heatwaves were described in the report as “intense and noteworthy.” The first occurred in June, at an unusually early time for the summer season, the second in July, which was widespread geographically and impacted over two-thirds of French population, and the third occurred in August.  

Geography

In terms of the parts of France that were most impacted, four regions – mostly concentrated in France’s south – stand out with particularly high levels of excess mortality.

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Nouvelle Aquitaine, Occitanie, and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur recorded the majority of the country’s excess national deaths during the heatwaves.

However, when looking at the deaths in proportion to the number of inhabitants, Brittany, a region typically known for cooler summer temperatures, saw a high proportion. The Paris region and Grand Est also saw higher per-population proportions of excess deaths.

The report joins other literature on the topic of excess deaths in Europe as a result of climatic events. The European Environment Agency recently released a study showing that without adaptation measures, if global warming were to reach 3C by 2100, “90,000 Europeans could die from heatwaves each year.”

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