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The Rhine hard hit by drought

Mid-October, the Rhine in Germany reached its lowest known level, due to months without rain and temperatures above 30°C this summer. Its level at Cologne fell to 77 cm.

Over 1,200 km long in a watershed covering 196,300 km², the fact that the Rhine crosses national borders and gives access to the sea makes it a major artery of the European economy. The fall in the water level and discharges has disorganised river transport to the point of interrupting it altogether. This situation has significantly disturbed the German economy and that of its neighbours, France, Switzerland and the Netherland. The Autonomous Port of Strasbourg recorded a fall in container barge traffic of 25% in September and a considerable increase in the price of river transport. Another impact: the transfer of freight to rail and especially road transport, with an additional 3,000 to 4,000 heavy trucks reported during this period, thus leading to an environmental problem.

In 2017, 186 million tonnes of goods* were transported between Basel and the German-Dutch border, meaning nearly half the river transport in Europe. The river is an essential route for finished products, as well as for raw materials intended for the Rhine basin. This drought episode had economic impacts on the entire region: the Elbe, which flows through Hamburg, the country’s largest sea port, was hit by the same phenomenon. As for agriculture, a fall in annual production of 20% is predicted.

* according to the Central  Rhine Navigation Commission, based in Strasbourg.


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