Rivers in Europe are facing the specter of drying up more than ever before, exposing the continent to economic risks not only with regard to the supply of food commodities, but also the shipping of goods, industries and the fight against climate change.
Since the beginning of 2023, water levels in several rivers were low, which caused restricted shipping.
The Rhine River, one of Europe’s most important waterways, faced restricted shipping that caused major disruptions that economists warned would slow the economic recovery in Germany, the continent’s economic locomotive.
This isn’t the first time that the water shipping sector has witnessed problems due to low water levels in rivers, as the sector suffered from similar problems back in 2018.
The same situation occurred last year as well, when large drop in water levels forced several logistics companies to find another ways to transport goods, which is a step logistically complex and expensive, which affected the economies of many countries.
The Rhine River has always been a reliable shipping lane for Europe, which led to the establishment of giant industrial companies on its banks, but those days seems to be over.
The Rhine stream is nearly 1,280 km through the Swiss Alps, bypassing Germany’s industrial heartland, before going into the North Sea in Rotterdam port.
The Rhine also transports more than 10% of Swiss trade and about two tons per Germany every year.
Meanwhile, as water levels steadily drop to prohibitive shipping levels from late summer through drought-induced autumn, companies that rely on Europe’s most important north-south trade route are scrambling to adapt, illustrating how the climate crisis is affecting even advanced industrial economies.
After severe heatwaves in southern Europe, the water levels at Kaupe, a key waypoint west of Frankfurt am Main this summer, reached levels that meant some ships would only be able to carry about half their normal load.
The Rhine is currently in danger.
An initial warning was issued in 2018, when the Rhine water level reached its lowest level on record, and transport across the river stopped, leading to a 5 billion Euro cut in German industrial production.
Since then, transport trade has constrained further.
In 2022, Germany recorded the lowest volume of trade across the Rhine and other inland waterways since at least 1990, according to Statistics.
It’s not only the Rhine that is exposed to a drop in the water level, but several other major rivers that are important for the transport of shipping and industries along its banks.
The high temperatures made the waters in France so warm that they no longer allow France’s nuclear reactors to be effectively cooled, as several French nuclear reactors rely on River waters for the cooling process.
Likewise, in Italy which witnessed a significant decrease in the rivers water level, and it became insufficient to irrigate fields.
As for the Danube River, which makes its way for about 2,880 km between Central Europe and the Black Sea, it also dries up, which impedes the movement of grain and other trade.
Economists and water resources specialists warn that the current turmoil is a harbinger of more crises in the future.