By Jack Newman for MailOnline
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.
The Rhine river – Germany’s most-important waterway – is running so low that it may soon become impassable to barges, threatening huge economic damage
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
Boat houses are seen on the banks of the Waal River in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, as Europe suffered through a drought
Europe has seen lower-than-average rainfall for the past two months, with rivers across the continent – including in Nijmegen, the Netherlands (pictured) – running very low
The droughts are not only affecting Germany, with Spain, southern France, Portugal and most of Italy suffering from the shortages
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 local authorities.
Meanwhile, in Germany, barges carrying iron ore from Rotterdam to steelmaking plants in Duisburg were running at less than half capacity to avoid running aground.
In some places the Rhine was so shallow that other vessels were moored far below the quays where people walk. Signs warning people about dangerously high waters stuck out of the riverbed, and rocks lay exposed.
The resulting bottlenecks are another drag on Europe’s largest economy, which is grappling with high inflation, supply chain disruptions and soaring gas prices after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
The droughts are not only affecting Germany, with Spain, southern France, Portugal and most of Italy suffering from the shortages with ministers imposing emergency water restrictions.
The European Drought Observatory said 15 per cent of the bloc is on red alert due to crops suffering from ‘severe water deficiency.’
As many as 95 French regions have brought in hosepipe bans, while 62 are at a ‘crisis level’ that only allows the use of water for essential needs.
More than 100 French towns have no running drinking water and are being supplied with special deliveries.
In Andalusia, one of Europe’s hottest and driest regions, paddle-boats and waterslides lie abandoned on the cracked bed of Vinuela reservoir which is now 87 per cent empty.
A prolonged dry spell and extreme heat made July the hottest month in Spain since at least 1961. Spanish reservoirs are at just 40 per cent of capacity on average in early August, well below the ten-year average of around 60 per cent, official data shows.
A flooded Portuguese village has reemerged from the depths with its stony foundations still intact as a result of the drought
An aerial view of the people on a boat between the partially flooded village Vilarinho da Furna during the summer season
People walk arround the remains of the church of Sant Roma de Sau as it emerges from the low waters of the Sau Reservoir, north of Barcelona, Spain
A sheep drinks water from the dried bed of the Guadiana river during a severe drought in the Cijara reservoir, in Villarta de los Montes, Spain
Meanwhile, a flooded Portuguese village dating back to the first century has reemerged from the depths with its stony foundations still intact as a result of the drought.
Vilarinho da Furna in Braga, northern Portugal, was intentionally submerged by the state in 1971 to build a reservoir, now bearing the same name, on the Homem River.
Every summer, the forgotten village reappears and becomes a popular attraction, with locals and tourists walking along the ruins that have been underwater for 50 years.
But this year, more of the village has been uncovered due to the sweltering heat that has suffocated Europe this summer.
Locals say that 70 per cent of the former granite houses are now visible.
The guardian of Vilarinho da Furna, António Barroso, told Renascença that: ‘Since 2009, the water has not gone down as it is now.’
The village had an unusual communitarian social system in which each family had a member on the council, known as the Junta.
The practice is believed to date back to the Visigoths and the leader of the Junta was chosen among the married men of the village, and they would serve for six months.
The Junta would discuss important local issues such as harvesting, transport, cattle herding and trapping wolves to maintain the self-sustaining community.
The Junta was also responsible for judging crimes and imposing punishments, which could lead to exclusions from Vilarinho da Furna, meaning they would not receive any of the benefits of the communitarian system.
The village used to house 300 people who were forced to relocate to neighbouring towns in 1970.
The 57 families of the Geresian town left the stones houses as they were before the water drained their properties.
There had been strong resistance to the dam among the villagers but they were unable to stop the government who offered them compensation for the forced relocation.
Visitors have to access the village via a dirt road that also leads to three river beaches in the area run by the Association of Former Inhabitants of Vilarinho da Furna (AFURNA).
During the drought, authorities have been able to clean the standing pillars and structures normally covered by the reservoir.
AFURNA charges entrance to the village during the summer weeks in order to maintain it and prevent hordes of crowds ruining the buildings.
Barroso, the 77-year-old guardian of the village, is responsible for two thousands hectares in the area.
FRANCE: A wildfire that destroyed thousands of acres of tinder-dry forest in southwest France has flared again amid a fierce drought and the summer’s latest heat wave, officials said Wednesday. Pictured: The front of a wildfire is seen in Saint Magne, in the Gironde region of southwestern France, on Tuesday. A small village is seen in the foreground as the smoke rises
Since Tuesday, the so-called Landiras blaze has burned 15,000 acres of pine forest and forced the evacuation of almost 6,000 people in an area already hit last month by huge blazes. No one has been injured in the coastal area that draws huge summer tourism crowds, but 16 houses were destroyed near the village of Belin-Beliet
Pictured: Smoke rises from a forest fire near the town of Romeyer in the Diois massif located in the Drôme department and at the foot of the Vercors massif, Tuesday
Pictured: A firefighting plane sprays fire retardant chemicals over a forest in France as smoke rises into the air
There were no reports of any injuries in wildfire in The Netherlands, but authorities said the main coastal road was closed in the province that is packed with tourists throughout the summer
Pictured: Blackened earth is seen from above in The Netherlands after a wildfire spread through near the Brouwersdam area
Britain in grips of another heatwave with ‘exceptional risk’ of wildfires as nation faces drought