Once, a river passed through it. Now, white dust and thousands of dead fish cover the wide gulf of winds between rows of trees in the Burgundy region of France, which used to be the Till River in the village of Lux.

An unprecedented drought is afflicting nearly half of Europe, from dry and broken water bodies in Spain to falling water levels in major arteries like the Danube, the Rhine and the Po. It is harming agricultural economies, forcing water restrictions, causing wildfires and threatening aquatic species.

The western, central and southern regions of the continent have not received any significant rainfall for almost two months. In normally rainy Britain, the government on Friday officially declared drought in southern and central England amid one of the hottest and driest summers on record.

And Europe’s dry period is expected to continue, which experts say could be the worst drought in 500 years.

Climate change is exacerbating the situation as warmer temperatures accelerate evaporation, thirsty plants take up more moisture and there is less snowfall in winter, limiting the supply of fresh water available for irrigation in summer. Europe is not alone in the crisis, with droughts in eastern Africa, the western United States and northern Mexico also reported.

As he walked along the 15-metre (50-foot) wide riverbed in Lux, Jean-Philippe Causane, chief technician of the local Federation for Fishing and Protection of the Aquatic Environment, cataloged the species of fish that died in Till .

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “On average, about 8,000 liters (2,100 gallons) are flowing per second. … and now, zero liters.”

In upland areas, some trout and other freshwater species may take shelter in pools via fish ladders. But such systems are not available everywhere.

Without rain, the river “will remain empty. And yes, all the fish will die. … they are stuck up and down, no water is coming in, so the oxygen level will keep on decreasing as the (water) volume decreases,” said Kausane. “These are species that will gradually disappear.”

The federation’s regional head Jean-Pierre Sonvico said diverting the fish to other rivers would not help as those waterways are also affected.

“Yeah, it’s dramatic because what can we do? Nothing,” he said. “We’re waiting, expecting a storm with rain, but storms are very localized so we can’t count on that.”

The European Commission’s Joint Research Center warned this week that drought conditions would worsen and potentially affect 47% of the continent.

Andrea Toretti, a senior researcher at the European Drought Observatory, said the drought in 2018 was so extreme that there had been no such event for the past 500 years, “but this year, I think, it’s really worse.”

For the next three months, “we still see a very high risk of dry conditions in Western and Central Europe as well as the UK,” Toretti said.

Peter Hoffmann, a meteorologist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research near Berlin, said the current conditions are the result of a prolonged dry season caused by changes in world weather systems.

“It’s just that in the summer we feel it the most,” he said. “But really the drought persists year-round.”

Climate change has reduced temperature differences between regions, the forces driving the jet stream, which typically brings wet Atlantic weather to Europe, he said.

A weak or unstable jet stream can bring unusually warm air from North Africa into Europe, causing prolonged heatwaves. The opposite is also true, when a polar vortex of cold air from the Arctic can create freezing conditions where it normally reaches.

Hoffman said that in recent years all current climate models are on the upper end of what they predict.

Drought has caused some European countries to restrict the use of the water, and shipping on the Rhine and Danube rivers is at risk.

The Rhine, Germany’s largest waterway, is expected to reach critically low levels in the coming days. Officials say it may be difficult for many large ships to navigate the river safely in the city of Kab, roughly between Koblenz and Mainz.

On the Danube, Serbian authorities have begun dredging to keep the ships moving.

In neighboring Hungary, wide stretches of Lake Valence, near Budapest, have turned into patches of dry mud, interspersed with small boats. Aeration and water circulation devices were installed to protect the wildlife, but the water quality has deteriorated. A weekend swimming ban was imposed on a beach.

Parts of the Po, Italy’s longest river, are so small that ships and boats that sunk decades ago are resurfacing.

Italy’s Lake Garda has plunged to its lowest level ever, and those who flocked to the popular spot east of Milan at the start of a long summer weekend found a newly exposed shoreline of rocks bleached with yellow . Officials recently released more water from Italy’s largest lake to help with irrigation, but halted an effort to protect the lucrative tourist season.

Drought has also affected England, which last month had the driest July since 1935, according to the Met Office. The lack of rain has depleted reservoirs, rivers and groundwater, and left grasslands gray and dry-dry.

UK Millions of people were already barred from watering lawns and gardens in the U.S., and another 15 million people around London will soon face such restrictions.

UK Farmers in the U.S. are faced with a lack of irrigation water and lack of hay using winter fodder for livestock. The River Trust charity said England’s chalk currents – which allow underground springs to bubble through the spongy layer of rock – are drying up, endangering aquatic wildlife such as kingfishers and trout.

Even countries like Spain and Portugal, which are used to long periods without rain, have seen great results. In the Spanish region of Andalusia, some avocado farmers have had to sacrifice hundreds of trees to save others from wilting as the Vinuela reservoir in the province of Málaga has fallen to only 13% of capacity.

Some European farmers are using tap water for their livestock when ponds and streams dry up, using 100 liters (26 gallons) per day per cow.

In a typically green burgundy, the source of Paris’ Seine River, the grass has turned yellowish-brown and tractors churn out huge clouds of dust.

Baptiste Colson, who owns dairy cows and grows fodder crops in the village of Moloy, said their animals are suffering, the quality and quantity of their milk is decreasing. The 31-year-old head of the local youth farmers’ union said he has been forced to plunge into his winter fodder in August.

“That’s the biggest concern,” Colson said.

According to S&P Global Commodity Insights, EU corn production is expected to drop by 12.5 million tonnes from last year and sunflower production is projected to be down 1.6 million tonnes.

Colson expects corn yields to drop by at least 30%, which poses a major problem for feeding his cows.

“We know that we have to buy food … so that the cows can continue to produce milk,” he said. “From an economic point of view, the cost will be higher.”

Dana Beltazzi and Jill Lawless in London, Frank Jordan in Berlin, Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal, Ciaran Giles in Madrid, Duसनan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, and Bella Szandelszky in Budapest, Hungary, and Andrea Rosa and Luigi Navarra in Sirmione, Italy , has contributed.

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