Severe drought has caused water levels of the river Elbe to drop, exposing centuries-old “hunger stones”.
One stone, now visible in Děčín, where the Elbe flows from the Czech Republic into Germany, was carved with a warning in 1616 which reads: “If you see me, weep.”
The stones, embedded into the banks to mark water levels during famines, have been exposed as drought continues to afflict Europe.
Other stones, which were common in German settlements from the 16th to the 19th century, were inscribed with similarly macabre warnings in the event of falling water levels.
Central Europe is in the grip of a historic drought, with water levels on the Rhine reaching record lows on Monday.
Record low water level in Rhine
Germany’s Waterways and Shipping Administration (WSV) measured just 12.5 inches of water at a key reference point in Kaub – a bottleneck for shipping on the river which services Germany’s industrial heartlands.
At least 15.7in of water is needed for commercial shipping to be viable, and the WSV forecasts water levels could fall further this week.
German shipping company Contargo on Friday warned that its barges, which travel the length of the Rhine and its tributaries, would “not be able to sail without danger”.
In Emmerich, where the Rhine flows across the Dutch border, 1.5in of water was measured at the reference point – a record low beating the 2.7in of water recorded in 2018.
Though the measurements at the Emmerich reference point – which is not the deepest part of the river – could drop to zero this week, the river’s commercial shipping lane remains navigable.
Situation could worsen in Germany
With more hot weather looming there are fears the situation in Germany’s rivers could worsen.
“As long as it doesn’t rain, things will continue to go downhill,” a spokesman for the Rhine Water and Shipping Authority told broadcaster Welt on Sunday.
Economists estimate the disruption to Rhine shipping could knock as much as half a percentage point off overall economic growth this year in Europe’s largest economy.
As Germany looks to coal to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, the Rhine has become even more critical.
With boats already unable to take on enough coal due to low water levels, energy giant Uniper has warned of output cuts at two of its plants that together provide four per cent of Germany’s coal-generated electricity.
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