Water scarcity and drought

Page Last modified 07 Nov 2018
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Large areas of Europe have been affected by droughts over the past 50 years, and pressures on European water resources have increased in the past decades.

Therefore, future conflicts between human requirements and ecological needs are likely to increase. These conflicts are most critical and intensify during severe and extensive droughts. The primary cause of any drought is a deficiency in rainfall, but also increased human demand for water is an important factor.

Droughts can be divided into meteorological droughts, agricultural droughts and hydrological droughts.

Drought types and causes


Source: The US National Drought Mitigation Centre (NDMC).

Additional information on droughts can be found on NDMS homepage
Recent severe and prolonged droughts have highlighted Europe's vulnerability to this natural hazard and alerted the public, governments and operational agencies to the many problems of water shortage and the need for drought mitigation measures. Policy measures are needed which encourage ‘soft’ demand management approaches, rather than ‘hard’ infrastructure supply side approaches. Measures could include:

  • The use of economic instruments, such as water pricing and metering
  • Water-reuse and recycling
  • Increased efficiency of domestic, agricultural and industrial water use
  • Water saving campaigns supported by public education programmes

The main impacts of droughts include water supply problems, shortages and deterioration of quality, intrusion of saline water in groundwater bodies and increased pollution of receiving water bodies (i.e. there is less water to dilute pollutant discharges) and drops in groundwater levels. Droughts have major economic impacts.


The latest climate change scenarios suggest significant summer drying across many parts of Europe, especially in the south. These scenarios also suggest lower rainfall in other seasons and increased variability. These patterns of change suggest that over the coming decades Europe is likely to suffer more frequent meteorological droughts. This may be further exacerbated due to generally elevated temperatures increasing the demand for water.

In recognition of the acuteness of the water scarcity and drought challenges in Europe, the Commission is currently undertaking an in-depth assessment of the situation at EU level. Based upon the results of this assessment, the Commission is planning to present a communication on these issues in 2007
(See also water scarcity and drought).


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