Climate change is making itself felt with more frequent an intense droughts, floods and heatwaves across the world. The impacts of the climate crisis are mostly felt through water, as extreme events make water more scarce or more unpredictable. We look back at some of these extremes that marked 2022.
In Europe alone, there have been more than 20 extreme weather events since last August, according to Euronews. A severe drought affected many regions of Europe since the beginning of the year and worsened in the summer, in what was referred to as maybe the worst drought in Europe in 500 years, with dry conditions related to lack of rainfall combined with heatwaves. The precipitation deficit affected river discharge across Europe, and the reduced stored volume had impacts on energy generation, both hydropower and cooling systems of power plants. Moreover, water and heat stress reduced the yields of summer crops.
Across the world in China, a summer drought and an unprecedented heatwave affected areas of the Yangtze River basin, where low river flows disrupted hydropower production. Rainfall in the basin was the lowest since records began in 1961, impacting agricultural land.
In the U.S. Southwest, drought was not new in 2022, since the region has been suffering from an unrelenting drought since 2020. With exceptional low precipitation and high temperatures, the current exceptional drought occurs after two decades of persistently warm and dry conditions. The seasonal drought outlook from the U.S. National Weather Service is grim, predicting a persistent drought in the Southwest. To brace for a fourth consecutive year of dry conditions, a regional drought emergency was declared for southern California earlier this month.
An unexpected side effect of drought has been the findings at the bottom of reservoirs and rivers as water levels dropped, from pre-historic remains such as the Dolmen of Guadalperal in Spain – dubbed the Spanish Stonehenge and dating back to 5,000 BC – to German warships in the Danube in Serbia, to bodies of people murdered by the Las Vegas mafia back in the 1970s at the bottom of Lake Mead.
Dry conditions are also a contributing factor to wildfires; although common in southern Europe, in 2022 the drought pushed them further north to Germany, Serbia, Slovenia and Czech Republic. Moreover, the dried-up land does not absorb large amounts of rain and leads to worse flooding. This fall floods have affected parts of Italy, the Greek island of Crete, Albania and most recently Lisbon.
Heavy rains and flooding have caused havoc in different corners of the world, with catastrophic consequences in some cases. In south-east Australia, heavy rainfall and riverine flooding affected the states of New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. Intense monsoon rains and flooding impacted Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia in south-east Asia; flooding also caused landslides in Venezuela.
In October Nigeria experienced the worst floods in a decade, with more than 600 people dead, and an estimated 1.3 million people displaced. UNICEF warned that more than 2.5 million people in the country were in need of humanitarian assistance, as the floods worsened an already precarious humanitarian situation in the country.
Earlier this month destructive floods hit Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) informs there are at least 8.2 million people affected by heavy rains in 20 countries in west and central Africa, with over 1,400 people dead and 2.9 million people displaced.
Pakistan bore the brunt of weather-related disasters this year, with floods that left a third of the country under water, affecting 33 million people, after it received almost 190% more rain than the average for the past 30 years. In the words of Dr Pervaiz Amir, an expert in South Asian water issues, Pakistan has been “a test case for the world to witness the widespread devastation that can befall nations from climate change”.
The world needs to adapt to a new normal marked by weather extremes. The global climate summary by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for October paints a picture of warmer global surface temperature, with precipitation deficits in North America and western Europe, whereas he long-running La Niña provided background conditions for floods in Australia, South Asia and the Maritime Continent, and West Africa.
The impact of the climate crisis on the water cycle in undeniable, and climate policy needs to pay closer attention to water. This was recognized at the recent UN climate change conference, COP27, where the importance of water both as a key climate change problem and a potential solution was highlighted, and governments were called to further integrate water into adaptation efforts.