Farmers in France pray for rain

Farmers in France pray for rain

Mhe procession in Perpignan in southern France has little to do with folklore or the cultivation of religious customs, but the parade will certainly cause a stir. For the first time in 150 years, farmers and Catholic clergy in the city near the Spanish border set out together on Saturday to ask the patron saint of farmers in the Catalan region for rain. It is urgent, because very little rain has fallen in the already dry region for months. The situation is similar in large parts of France, the groundwater reserves are exhausted and the government is alarmed. Is there a risk of a second summer of drought after 2022?

The rainfall balance for the winter months, at least, is devastating: since weather records began in 1959, there has never been such a long period of rain in France in winter, according to the weather service Météo France. This led to a remarkable drying out of the soil for the time of year, which had already been weakened by the drought in the summer of 2022. Rainfall in March has meanwhile improved the situation in part of France. In the south of the country, however, it is still drier than normal, Météo France said.

Water Conservation Restrictions

According to the meteorologists, the direct trigger of the most recent dry period was a high pressure area that kept precipitation away from France for weeks. As a study presented in February by the French National Research Organization (CNRS) shows, the increase in temperature associated with climate change in Europe However, this means that the scope and extent of the high pressure areas are expanding – with increasing drought as a result.

View of the partially dried up Lac de Montbel in the French department of Ariège

View of the partially dried up Lac de Montbel in the French department of Ariège

Image: Reuters

Some departments, especially in southern France, have already ordered restrictions. Irrigating gardens and sports stadiums, filling swimming pools and washing cars were all banned – a restriction unprecedented for the time of year. president Emmanuel Macron called for national water conservation. “We have a dry winter and not enough rain at the crucial moment, which allows our groundwater reserves to be replenished,” said Macron. “So we know that, like last summer, we will be confronted with problems of scarcity.” Instead of regulating scarce water in the short term, it is important to plan early.

The call for help to the church in Perpignan, but with a procession to pray for rain, comes from winemaker Georges Puig. “It rains everywhere in France, just not here,” he recently complained. As the first vicar of Saint-Jean Baptiste Cathedral, Abbé Christophe Lefebvre, said, the procession leads from the cathedral through the historic city gate to the Têt river. Relics of St. Galderic, the patron saint of farmers, are carried along. With the relics you want to stand in the almost dried up river bed. “The water is only 50 centimeters deep, so we can go in with rubber boots,” says Lefebvre. The procession revives a Visigoth tradition from the Middle Ages.

The increasing periods of drought are causing problems for winegrowers in the Mediterranean region. The French Viticulture Institute had already devoted a study to the orientation of viticulture in view of climate change in 2021. One of the recommendations is that winegrowers adjust their production and water use based on better regional climate data. It is also advised to grow more climate-resistant vines and to take steps to make viticulture as climate-neutral as possible. In the long term, France’s wine sector will have to make the necessary adjustments to climate change, according to the Ministry of Agriculture in Paris. The government wants to help create a strategy.

Drought hotspots in Europe

In the longer term, the drought trends of recent years are likely to become entrenched. On the one hand, various climate projections showthat by the end of the 21st century more intense and frequent extreme weather events can be expected. On the other hand, certain hotspots will develop that will be particularly badly affected. Hotspots are regions that experience major changes in rainfall, for example. About a year ago, researchers at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich published a study that used a complex model to examine the effects of severe global warming on droughts in Europe. They found out that there will be big differences in drought conditions in Europe. As the end of the century approaches, it gets drier. There will be hotspots everywhere, but above all in Spain, Portugal, France – and the Alps. At that time, the researchers still assumed that Spain and Portugal were the only regions in Europe where precipitation also decreased in winter. After such a winter, France could possibly also be included.

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