by Pavol Stracansky
22 January 2011
Prague, Czech Republic. (Photo: jamtea)
Half of the Czech Republic’s population
could face water shortages because of
climate change, a top climate change
expert has warned.
The country has become one of the driest in the EU, according to local
media, and climatologists say the land, and crucial underground water
supplies, are drying up.
Professor Michal Marek, head of the EU-funded CzechGlobe climate change
research project, told
"The Czech Republic is already seeing the
effects of climate change in more frequent extreme weather events and
changes in biodiversity.
"But possibly the most important change is in the increasing drying out
of the landscape as drier periods get longer and are followed by bursts
of intense rainfall which the dry soil cannot absorb. This has a very
significant effect on underground water supplies."
Climatologists and meteorologists in central
Europe have said that the region is seeing more and more extreme weather
including long periods of dry and hot weather in the summer, severe flooding
and bitter winter weather.
While not all parts of central and Eastern Europe will necessarily have the
same problems as the Czech Republic with underground water supplies because
of local geological conditions and other factors, heavy rains falling on
ground dried out by long periods of hot weather and unable to absorb water
can increase the risk of flooding.
The Czech Republic
been hit by devastating floods in the last two years.
Summer and winter temperature records have also regularly been broken over
the last decade.
Weathermen in Slovakia have begun speculating that weather ‘zones’ which
cover the region are moving steadily north:
that the climate seen typically
in northern Italy - including long, hot, dry summers and bursts of heavy
rains - will move a few hundred kilometers north to cover much of Austria,
Slovakia and parts of the Czech Republic.
In turn the climate associated with those countries will move and bring with
it different weather to parts of Germany and Poland.
With these changes rainfall patterns will also be different and in the Czech
Republic, hydrologists say that such changes are already being observed.
Climatologists warn that such change could pose a dramatic problem for the
country’s water resources.
In 2006 the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute said research indicated that
by the middle of this century some of the country’s rivers could have dried
Some local ecological groups say that by 2050 there may not be enough water
to meet the population’s basic needs.
Some Czech towns highly dependent on underground sources for water supplies
say that they are already feeling the effects of depleted resources.
In towns in the southwest of the country residents and local officials say
that in recent years they have been faced with water shortages after just a
few weeks of dry weather, and some smaller settlements have to rely on water
brought in from other parts of the country.
The Czech Hydrometeorological Institute, which monitors underground water
sources, has identified areas across the north and south of the country
which are also suffering from falling underground water levels.
Local firms drilling outdoor wells for homes have said that 30 years ago
they would not need to drill more than eight meters into the ground to find
water, but that now they regularly need to go to depths of 30 meters.
While experts say that water levels in underground water sources depend on a
variety of factors including local geological conditions and other water
flows, rainfall plays a significant role in replenishing underground
"It is one factor affecting underground
supply of water but it is terribly important," said Professor Marek.
Hydrologists say that there has been a marked
change in rainfall patterns in recent years with overall rainfall levels
being similar to the long-term past but precipitation being less frequent
and, therefore, more intense.
Anna Hrabankova, a hydrologist at the T.G. Masaryk Water Research Institute
in Prague, told IPS:
"Climate change is a reality. Rainfall is
spread differently throughout the year now. The rhythms of rainfall here
The Czech Republic, like neighboring Poland and
Slovakia, suffered severe flooding nationwide last year. It was the
country’s third period of devastating floods over the last 13 years.
Climate change experts say that rising global temperatures will, in some
places, lead to more intense rainfall over short periods.
"Extreme weather, such as flooding and big
summer storms, is becoming more frequent and this, I think, is a sign of
the effects of climate change in the Czech Republic," Professor Marek
The situation with underground water sources in
the Czech Republic is unlikely to improve in the near future.
The Czech Hydrometeorological Institute’s climate change department is predicting more
weather extremes in the coming years with longer periods of hot weather
followed by sudden heavy rainfall.
Professor Marek said that he was pessimistic about the future effects of
climate change on the country, especially water supplies.
A report in Czech media this week claimed that 50 percent of Czechs - the
proportion of the population reliant on underground water supplies - were
facing water shortages because of falling underground water levels.
Some hydrologists questioned the claim as being alarmist but Professor Marek
"I absolutely agree with this figure. It is
completely realistic from my point of view, even though it would, of
course, be a terrible situation.
"Problems with water supplies will only get
worse and will be the single biggest problem posed by climate change to
affect the Czech Republic in the future, worse than changes to
biodiversity or anything else."
Ecological groups such as the Czech branch of
Friends of the Earth, say that measures must be taken to ensure that water
is not lost, such as reversing river courses which, over decades, have been
artificially straightened and has left them less able to retain water.
Professor Marek added:
"The solution is landscape planning to
prevent water running off the land such as changing the use of land,
agricultural practices and natural features that help retain water."