Southern Europe and northern Maghreb hit by drought

Water restrictions in Catalonia, Sicily in a state of natural disaster: drought is not receding around the Mediterranean, as winter failed to bring the usual rainfall, according to the latest figures from the European Copernicus network on Wednesday.

45.1% of southern Europe is affected by soil drought, including 2.8% at "alert" level, according to the latest data from the European Drought Observatory (EDO) analyzed by AFP, covering the period from February 1 to 10.

A quarter of all of Europe and northern North Africa, the area studied by Copernicus, is in a drought situation, with 19.3% of soils in moisture deficit and 2.5% where vegetation is developing abnormally ("alert", an even more advanced state of drought), according to calculations made by AFP.

The situation has worsened since the end of January, but remains slightly better than at the same time last year (31.3% of the territory).


Heat and lack of rain

The western Mediterranean region, on the other hand, is particularly hard hit: southern Italy, the Spanish Mediterranean coast, and above all northern Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. While rain is expected to return to Morocco, only heavy precipitation will be able to compensate for such deficits.

The cause: unseasonably mild temperatures - January set a new record for monthly global temperatures, according to Copernicus - combined with a lack of precipitation that in some regions has lasted for several months or even years.


Catalonia: new water restrictions

On February 1, Catalonia, faced with "its worst drought in a century" according to the president of the regional government, Pere Aragonès, was placed under a state of emergency, resulting in further water restrictions.

The level of the region's reservoirs, which store rainwater, has fallen below 16%. In the Algarve, in southern Portugal, reservoirs were also very low at the end of January. These figures relate to the dryness of the soil, as seen by the Copernicus satellites, and not to the water tables underground.

In the Pyrénées-Orientales region in the south of the country, the water tables - the main reserves of drinking water - remain in a "very worrying" situation, according to the organization in charge of monitoring them.


State of natural disaster in Sicily

In Italy, Sicily declared a state of natural disaster due to drought at the beginning of February, and in Sardinia farmers can only use limited quantities of water.

And Morocco, where the temperature recently approached 37°C, is facing its sixth consecutive year of drought.

The climate situation may not get any better. According to EDO forecasts, spring could be hotter than normal in 2024 over Europe and the Mediterranean. Added to this is a significant snow deficit in several mountain ranges, which will compromise water recharge in rivers over the coming months.