Centuries-old warnings emerge from riverbed as Europe faces historic drought

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Water levels have dropped in major rivers across Europe as the region suffers under a historic drought. In those dry riverbeds, centuries-old warning messages have emerged, locals report.

The “horrifying” boulders are known as “Hungersteine,” or “Hunger Stones,” local German reporter Olaf Koens said in an Aug. 11 tweet.

One of these stones is embedded in the Elbe River, which runs from the mountains of Czechia through Germany to the North Sea, POLITICO journalist Aitor Hernández-Morales tweeted the same day.

The stone, dating back to a drought in 1616, is once again visible in the dry riverbed, Hernández-Morales said. The warning reads, “Wenn du mich seehst, dann weine” – “If you see me, weep.”

“Hunger stones” like this one were used as “hydrological landmarks” across central Europe, NPR reported when the stones last surfaced during a 2018 drought.

These stones are “chiselled with the years of hardship and the initials of authors lost to history,” a team of Czech researchers wrote in a 2013 study. “The basic inscriptions warn of the consequences of drought. It expressed that drought had brought a bad harvest, lack of food, high prices and hunger for poor people.” The stones commemorate historic droughts, the researchers said.

Europe’s current drought is certainly historic. Scientists at the European Drought Observatory said that the drought is on track to be the worst one in 500 years, Sky News reported.

According to the drought observatory, 47% of Europe is in drought warning conditions, meaning the soil has a moisture deficit. Another 17% is on alert, meaning the vegetation in the area is being affected by the dry conditions.

Major rivers in Germany, Italy, and England – the Rhine, Po, and Thames, respectively – are drying out, DW reported. The outlet reported that rivers are “too dry, too low, and too warm,” which has consequences on wildlife, the economy and people.

Water levels in the Rhine River are about half of their usual depth for this time of the year, with some sections having even lower water levels, DW reported. This has made shipping on the river five times more expensive because cargo ships must carry less weight to make sure they do not run aground, Reuters reported.

In Italy, the prime minister said that the country is experiencing, “the most serious water crisis of the last 70 years.”

Boats lay on the dried lake bed in a port in Velence, Hungary, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022. A huge drought is sweeping across Europe, which effects Hungary too. According to the General Directorate of Water Management (OVF), the water level in Lake Velence, a popular touristic lake near Budapest, is at its lowest level ever recorded. (AP Photo/Anna Szilagyi)

The drought comes after months of high temperatures and little rainfall, The Washington Post reported. Human-induced climate change has also contributed to the “intensity, frequency and duration of heat events” and amplified droughts, the outlet reported.

According to the European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, “Droughts have become our summer reality,” he tweeted.

Italy, Spain, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, and France are all struggling under the drought, EuroNews and Sky News.

Conditions aren’t expected to improve any time soon, with the European Drought Observatory telling Sky News that, “we have estimated a worsening of the situation in most of Europe.”

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