FRANKFURT, Aug. 18 (Xinhua) -- Europe's prolonged drought this summer, with no relief in sight, is dealing a heavy blow to its vital inland water transportation.
Lilith Kunz, who was visiting the German town of Kaub by the River Rhine on Wednesday, told Xinhua that she could hardly believe what she saw this time -- shallow river water and exposed riverbed -- was the same Rhine she visited two years ago.
"The water level has dropped significantly compared to then," Kunz said, adding that she worried the river transport might be further hampered or even shut down if the water level continues to plunge.
Persistent drought in Europe has caused the water levels to drop significantly in the Rhine, Germany's most important waterway through which hundreds of millions of tonnes of cargo is transported every year.
In early August, Germany's Waterways and Shipping Administration (WSV) started to sound alarms about the dwindling water levels in the Rhine. On Monday, the water level of the Rhine in the town of Emmerich near the Germany-Netherlands border hit a record low of 4 centimeters, according to WSV.
The low water levels of the Rhine have forced barges to significantly reduce their cargo loads in order to stay safe.
Hans-Heinrich Witte, president of the Directorate-General for Waterways and Shipping in the city of Bonn, said that the traffic on the Rhine has been curtailed markedly, and barges are carrying goods less than half of their normal loads to cope with the low water levels.
The clogged transport on the Rhine is adding new pressure to Germany's industries which have already been struggling with supply chain disruptions. Besides, the worsening energy crisis has necessitated more transport of coal and fuel through inland waterways.
Holger Loesch, deputy head of the Federation of German Industries (BDI), said logistics companies are shifting to rail transport as cargo loads on freighters have to be reduced.
Loesch warned that the low water levels threaten the supply security of German industry, and factories will have to cut down or even halt production.
Other European countries also feel the pinch of the long dry spell.
A number of other waterways in Germany and France, including the River Mosel and the River Marne, have seen low water levels since July. The Grand-Est region of France, on the west bank of the Rhine, is also keeping a close eye on the river's water level.
"The water flow of the Rhine is particularly low, only 550 cubic meters per second in Strasbourg these days, whereas a 4,000 cubic meters per second was recorded the same period last year when the Rhine experienced a major flood," said the French waterways authority Voies navigables de France (VNF) in mid-July.
The French waterways authority has shut down the operations of mainly private and recreational boats along some 600 km of its waterways. This accounts for about 9 percent of the total length of navigatable waterways in the country.
Italy's River Po, the country's longest river, is also seeing low water levels. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi noted that the Po is experiencing the most severe drought crisis in 70 years. Farming and commercial freight transportation have been adversely impacted.
Low water levels are also seen along the Danube River, another important waterway in Europe. Countries including Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia have embarked on dredging efforts to safeguard the transportation on the river. ■