Prague, Czech Republic – The Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia are facing historic droughts threatening their agricultural sector, water resources and putting entire communities at risk.
Czech Republic faces worst drought in 500 years
Earlier this week, Environment Minister Richard Brabec said that the Czech Republic was facing its worst drought in 500 years. “We are facing an unprecedented drought period, both in its duration and its impact”, he warned. “And it’s April, when water levels in rivers should be at their highest and the soil should be soaked with water”.
Data revealed that more than three-quarters of the Czech territory faced extreme drought conditions in April and that only a tiny fraction of the soil had a normal level of water.
In Prague, the water level of the Vltava river is only 22% its monthly average.
“Smaller rivers will dry out, there may be tens, perhaps hundreds of communities supplied by cisterns because their sources may dry out”, Brabec claimed, adding that his Ministry had asked for additional resources of up to 3.5 billion Kc (around €130 million) to fight the drought and preserve harvests.
Long-term meteorological conditions (temperature rise, lack of rain and snowfalls, warm winter), as well as the legacy of intensive farming in landlocked Czech Republic have been blamed for the unprecedented crisis.
Czechs worried about effects of climate change
Environment Minister Brabec said that water shortages will pose a major risk in the future “unless there is a miracle that would bring a month-long continuous rain”.
Talking to Radio Prague, climatologist Miroslav Trnka put the current situation into perspective: “The important thing is that this is not a single-year drought. This is a drought that effectively started in 2015 and since then we have had six seasons”. And although “this is pretty much the symptom of a global [climate] change”, farming and forestry have also increased the soil’s vulnerability to extreme weather conditions and are also to blame for the current situation.
According to a survey of the Median polling agency for Czech Radio, released in late April, droughts and other symptoms of climate change are the biggest cause of concern for Czechs, with 85% of respondents considering it as an important threat. Fears of a major economic crisis came second, followed by concerns of another viral pandemic.
A previous March study had also shown that climate change awareness was growing in the Czech population – frequently described as one of the most climate-skeptic in Europe. More specifically, Czechs’ fears of droughts ranked as the number one issue that worried them the most.
Historic droughts also affected Poland and Slovakia
Catastrophic droughts have also been reported in most countries of the region.
Neighboring Slovakia, which has had an unusually warm and dry winter this year, is also experiencing a major drought affecting most parts of the country, even high-altitude and mountainous regions in the north.
With the last significant rainfalls dating back to early March, Slovakia’s soil, particularly in the western and south-western regions, are facing a significant lack of groundwater resources. Climatologist Jozef Pecho from the Slovak Hydro-meteorological Institute warned that, although similar droughts have occurred before, the situation is only getting worse year after year.
At the same time, Poland is experiencing one of its worst droughts in “over a hundred years”, the Polish meteorological service announced earlier this month, sparked by the combination of climate change, rising temperatures, declining rainfalls and mismanagement of water resources. Experts have long said that Poland could have to deal with a serious water crisis in the years to come. “Our [water] resources are comparable to those of Egypt”, a report titled “Poland, European Desert” warned last year.
Last month, Poland faced its largest fires in years in the Biebrza National Park. Although believed to have been initially caused by illegal gas burning, experts pointed out that the devastating wildfires were aggravated by the drought and outdated water management policies.