France orders crisis task force over ‘historic’ drought

The French government has activated a crisis task force to coordinate efforts to alleviate the impact of a "historic" drought exacerbated by a third extreme heatwave of the summer.

France orders crisis task force over 'historic' drought
The dried out bed of Lac des Brenets on the border of France and Switzerland. (Photo: Fabrice Coffrini / AFP)

Water restrictions have already been ordered in nearly all of France’s 96 mainland départements, with 62 at the highest alert level, and national weather agency Météo-France has forecast little relief in the coming weeks.

“This drought is the worst-ever recorded in our country … the situation could persist for the next two weeks and become even worse,” the office of Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said in a statement.

The dry conditions are a “disaster” for farmers across the country as well as for “our ecosystems and biodiversity,” it added.

Soaring temperatures have increased the evaporation of lakes and rivers whose levels have fallen just as irrigation needs rise ahead of autumn harvests.

The state-controlled electricity provider EDF has had to reduce output at several nuclear plants because river temperatures have become too high, which means water used to cool reactors cannot be safely returned to natural waterways.

“Faced with this historic situation, the prime minister has decided to activate an interdepartmental crisis task force and urges everyone to conserve our water resources,” her office said.

But the statement did not address growing criticism over exceptions that have been granted to golf courses, which are being allowed to continue watering greens even in departments now on drought crisis alert.

Several other European countries have also issued severe drought warnings, with the EU urging members this week to re-use treated urban waste water for the continent’s parched farms.

The crisis has kindled fears that yields of grain and other crops will suffer, further raising food prices already climbing in part from the disruptions caused by Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. 

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IN PICTURES: French drought intensifies as River Loire dries up

As France continues to suffer its worst drought on record, many of its mighty rivers - including the Loire and the Dordogne - have in some areas dwindled to a trickle while in other regions lakes and reservoirs have vanished.

IN PICTURES: French drought intensifies as River Loire dries up

Almost all of France is now under some level of water restrictions and in many communes tap water has been rationed or even cut off altogether as supplies run dry.

The climate crisis-linked drought – intensified by an unusually hot summer – has dried out many subterranean water supplies, but the country’s rivers are also affected.

From the Loire to the Dordogne, rivers are slowing to a trickle – as this aerial video from French TV channel LCI shows.

The dry bed of the Loire River in Saumur, western France on August 8th. Photo by GUILLAUME SOUVANT / AFP)

Swimmers bathe in the Adour river near Aire-sur-Adour, southwestern France, on August 9th. Photo by GAIZKA IROZ / AFP

Across France many lakes have also virtually dried up, while reservoirs are at a perilously low level.

The dry bed of Lac des Brenets, part of the Doubs River, a natural border between eastern France and western Switzerland. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

In inland areas, many lakes have ‘beaches’ that serve as leisure attractions for locals who are too far away for day-trips to the sea – complete with sun-beds, bars, cafés and souvenir stalls.

Some lake beaches have been forced to close because of the lack of water.

A man walks at the Castillon lake, partially dried out, in Saint-Andre-les-Alpes, southeastern France. Photo by Christophe SIMON / AFP

Marshland has also dried out, threatening wildlife and also the livelihood of France’s artisan salt-makers, who produce fleur de sel from salt marshes around the French coastline.

French salt worker Evan Thoby collects salt flowers in salt marshes, in Batz-sur-Mer, western France. Photo by Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP

These scenes have been repeated across Europe, including in Italy where the Po river has dried up and Germany where the Rhine – which carried a huge amount of freight traffic in normal times – is perilously low and has had to restrict shipping.