Clara Palma Hermann
Berlin, Jul 28 (EFE).- The extreme climate conditions in Germany in recent weeks and months has seen the Rhine drop to unusually low levels that are starting to hamper the transport of goods and raw materials along the waterway which is key to coal and fuel supplies.
The drought, coupled with several heat waves, means the river, which connects major industrial sites from Rotterdam to Basel, is at “atypically low levels”, Germany’s General Directorate for Waterways (GDWS) said.
The situation is not yet as extreme as in October 2018, when a third of the companies in the region had to cut down their production due to a lack of raw materials, but GDWS spokeswoman Claudia Thoma told Efe that the situation is unlikely to improve in the coming weeks.
Shipping companies are being forced to use smaller and shallower vessels and to reduce cargo volume, she said, reversing the trend of recent decades to employ ever larger vessels.
“On the Upper Rhine at the moment ships carry less than half the usual cargo volumes,” Thoma noted.
Ocke Hamann, director of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Lower Rhine – one of Germany’s most industrialized regions – pointed out that in some cases the ships can only be loaded to a third of their capacity.
Unlike in 2018, he said, the drought comes at a time when markets are “very nervous” due to problems with supply chains and the energy crisis related to the war in Ukraine.
Coal is currently in high demand due to plans to reactivate coal-fired power plants to generate electricity and save gas.
“The low water level comes at the worst imaginable time for everyone. Prices are sky-high and it is practically impossible to get space on ships,” he said.
Many companies are being forced to postpone their medium- and long-term plans in the face of the need to manage a day-to-day “chronic crisis” mode, which only worsens the prognosis for the economic climate, he said.
In the wake of the drought in 2018, the German federal government launched the “Low Rhine” action plan, which calls for, among other measures, the development of better water level forecasts so that companies can prepare for such extreme situations.
But Hamann argues instead for incentives to build “flatter and lighter” ships that can navigate in lower water levels.
He also stresses the need to accelerate work to adapt the river bed in certain areas of the Rhine, a project planned for the next decade which environmental organizations have heavily criticized
They argue that deepening the riverbed would increase the speed of water flow, which could damage the ecosystem and even reduce the water level in other stretches of the river.
Opponents of the project also point out that it distracts from the real priority to prevent further drops in the level of the Rhine, the fight against climate change. EFE