April 23, 2011

Europe Prays For Rain This Easter

Europeans will most likely be praying for rain this Easter holiday weekend as much of the country is under the worst drought in more than a century, AFP reports.

Many Europeans are fearful that a prolonged drought will impact already sky-high global food prices due to potential damage for the annual wheat harvest. Also devastating wild fires are a real danger.

Many regions are being pressed to cancel traditional Easter fairs due to the risk of fires posed by the extremely dry weather affecting northern Europe, Dutch news agency ANP said.

The Dutch have also banned all barbecues, camp fires and outdoor smoking this Easter.

The dry spell brings back memories of the record warming that Russia endured last year, and with the growing price of wheat futures, farmers are busy scanning the skies hoping for any sign of rain.

In Zurich, Switzerland, officials began moving trout this week from the river Toess before their habitat dried up.

This year threatens to bring "one of the most significant droughts since 1864," the year when records began in Switzerland, Olivier Duding, a climatologist from Swiss weather service Meteosuisse, told AFP.

The drought that has plagued western Switzerland for the past 12 months is as severe as those recorded in 1884 and 1921, said Meteosuisse.

Urs Vogt warns that once cows feed on this spring's first greens, there may be little left for coming months. A grass shortage could lead to fodder shortfall for next winter.

Rainfall is 40 percent below normal levels, and England and Wales had the driest March in more than a hundred years. If the hot, dry spells continue, water use restrictions may soon be forced on residents and companies there.

Six of 10 French reservoirs have water levels far below normal, which means similar irrigation restrictions may be enforced there as well.

Growing economic qualms and the turmoil in North Africa and areas of the Near East have created volatility in grain futures. The recent Japanese disaster also didn't help matters, the Food and Agriculture Organization said after logging a first, slight drop in raw food prices for eight months.

While European Commission agriculture spokesman Roger Waite acknowledges a "slight" rise in the prices of maize and wheat, he maintained that winter crops remain "generally in good condition."

A spokeswoman for European farmers federation Copa-Cogeca said it was too soon to draw conclusions, but Belgian farmer Guy Franck, who heads a dairy collective in French-speaking Wallonia, says gut instinct tells him worse is yet to come.

"I've been in this game for 30 years, I've never seen a month of April like this one," said Franck, warning that "everything with short roots is seriously dehydrated."


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