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France at high risk of drought

France is set to face widespread hosepipe bans after an exceptionally dry winter and spring sparked fears of a summer of drought – and scorching sun.

Forecasters have already started comparing it to the run-up to the killer heatwave in 2003 when nearly 15,000 died and the 1976 drought when lakes and rivers dried up.

Rainfall in the northern half of France is down 25% since September and by 70% since April this year. Analysts at the Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minières say two-thirds of the aquifers have low or very low supplies of water.

Despite heavy rains at the beginning of May, Météo France said there remained a significant drought concern.

With conditions similar to those before the heatwave in 2003 the health ministry is already giving advice on how to cope.

In August 2003 temperatures were consistently above 40C and most deaths, of mainly elderly people, were from heat-stroke and dehydration. Across Europe there were 70,000 deaths in total.

Some hosepipe bans are already in place in Brittany, Aquitaine and Grand Est but many prefects have also called for careful usage in an area stretching across the north from Brittany to Marne and Ardennes.

Where water use has been restricted, there is a ban on watering lawns, gardens, crops and sports fields from 10.00 to 18.00.

Farmers face being particularly hard hit as soils are already drying up in the northern half of the country, plus Gironde, the western Mediterranean coast and Corsica.

Meteorologist Eric Leister of AccuWeather said that “prolonged heat, including several dangerous heatwaves, will be a major issue across southern Europe.”

A Météo France spokeswoman confirmed the drought threat this summer was high, but said it was “still too soon to predict the severity accurately. “It’s too early to talk about seasonal forecasts, and summer forecasts are not yet available – but we plan to update the public on May 31 on the situation regarding the drought threat.”

Brittany and the Massif Central do not have aquifers due to the underlying rock but those across a large portion of the country are affected by low levels from Hauts-de-France to Pays-de-la-Loire, Poitou-Charentes and central Occitanie.

There has also been virtually no rain in Corsica since early March and the dry spell is reaching local record levels.

If the scorching summer turns into a heatwave, the health ministry advises people to:

  • avoid going outside in the hottest hours(11.00-21.00) and stay indoors in the coolest room
  • if you have to go out, wear a hat, loose and light clothing, preferably of light colour
  • regularly take fresh showers or baths during the day
  • drink regularly, and without waiting for thirst, at least 1.5-2 litres of water per day
  • avoid alcohol, high-caffeine drinks and sugary drinks
  • avoid outdoor activities that require physical activity, such as sports, gardening, DIY
  • think to help infants and children, elderly people and people with disabilities by regularly offering them drinks, even if they do not ask
  • check in on elderly or disabled neighbours or friends regularly

More advice is available on 

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