France's 'most severe' drought leaves towns short of drinking water amid third heatwave

The fountains of Concorde plaza are empty in Paris as France swelters under extreme heat. Credit: AP

The French Prime Minister has warned that the country is facing its “most severe drought” ever recorded as more than 100 municipalities have been left short of drinking water.

Elisabeth Borne said on Friday that many areas in France are going through a “historic situation” as the country endures its third heatwave this summer.

“The exceptional drought we are currently experiencing is depriving many municipalities of water and is a tragedy for our farmers, our ecosystems and biodiversity,” she said in a statement.

The dry conditions, which are expected to continue for at least the next two weeks, mean there are now 62 regions across the country with restrictions on water usage due to the lack of rain.

Firefighters put water on trees at a forest fire in Aubais, southern France, in July. Credit: SDIS 30 service audiovisuel via AP

According to the national weather service Meteo-France, in July France had just 9.7mm of rain, making it the driest month since March 1961.

The minister for ecological transition, Christophe Béchu, said that over 100 municipalities are now not able to provide drinking water to the tap anymore and need to get supplied by truck. “The worst the situation is, the more we make drinking water the priority compared to other usages,” he said.

The state energy company EDF has had to temporarily cut power production at two if its nuclear plants which use river water to cool reactors, as river temperatures are too high to provide sufficient cooling.

The french energy giant warned that at least one more plant could be affected in the coming days due to high temperatures in the Rhone river.

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France - which has banned irrigation in much of its north-west and south-east - relies on nuclear energy for some 70% of its electricity, more than any other country.

Weather forecasts suggest that the heat, which increases evaporation and water needs, could continue for the next 15 days, possibly making the drought situation even more worrying. In response, the government has set up a crisis unit which will monitor developments in the hardest-hit areas and coordinate measures like bringing drinking water to targeted places. It will also monitor the impact of the drought on France’s energy production, transport infrastructure and agriculture.