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Last Updated: Monday, 21 July, 2003, 15:44 GMT 16:44 UK
Drought-hit farmers plead for aid
Italian farmer surveys dried-up field
Drought has ravaged large parts of Europe
European farmers hit by the double perils of drought and extreme heat are pleading with Brussels for emergency aid.

Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain, France and Portugal have been among the worst-hit by the weeks of low rainfall and scorching sunshine.

Farmers' association Copa-Cogeca has now written to the European Commission and the Council of Ministers, pleading for immediate help in what it terms a "natural disaster".

As the heatwave continues, firefighters across Europe are battling a series of blazes in tinder-dry forests.

Evacuation from Massif des Maures fire near Vidauban, France
Forest fires are a growing menace
Countries from Portugal to Sweden have been hit by the blazes, some of them started deliberately, but others sparked by lightning.

In Greece, dozens of holidaymakers and residents were being evacuated from properties near the Corinth Canal on Monday as flames threatened the area.

"The situation is difficult... it's been hard to co-ordinate our resources," said fire chief Panayiotis Fourlas.

Other flashpoints include:

  • Corsica, where a huge fire is burning north of the capital Ajaccio, and has already destroyed 2000 hectares (4,600 acres) of forest
  • Mainland France, where a blaze in a Provencal hill range, the Massif des Maures, is being monitored in case it flares up again
  • Portugal, where more than 500 firefighters have been fighting a two-day blaze in pine forests near Serta, 100 km (60 miles) north-east of Lisbon
  • Croatia, where fires were burning near the Adriatic city of Dubrovnik
  • Sweden, not normally troubled by forest fires, where a series of brush fires broke out along the north-eastern coast.

Punishing temperatures have continued to be recorded across Europe.

Sunday highs in the south-west German city of Karlsruhe reached 37.9C (100.2F) officials said, and Mannheim was only slightly cooler at 37.7C.

Severe storms triggered by the heat brought down trees and injured one German farmer.

Severe storms in France last week killed at least five people.

Farm 'catastrophe'

For farmers, the effects of the scorching summer have been "truly catastrophic", says Copa-Cogeca.

"Faced with this situation, community solidarity must work fully in the favour of the farmers and the agricultural sector in the regions hit by this drought," it says.

Agricultural groups in Italy say farmers have lost around five billion euros' worth of crops. The price of some fresh fruit and vegetables has been rising as a result of the drought, say analysts.

Catamaran in German trees
Storms triggered by the heat have hit Germany
Italian officials are still waiting to decide whether to declare a state of emergency in the north, where levels in the River Po are nearly eight metres (24 feet) below their normal levels, and still dropping.

Emergency plans are being drawn up to pump water from Alpine lakes and dams into the river.

Some of Europe's other mighty rivers including the Danube and the Rhine have also been hit, reducing navigable waters to narrow channels.

All river traffic on the Danube between Vienna and the Slovakian border had been halted completely, said the port manager in the Austrian capital, Vienna.

Emergency work was reported to be under way elsewhere to deepen parts of the Danube so that shipping does not have to be suspended.


SEE ALSO:
In pictures: France's surprise storm
17 Jul 03  |  Photo Gallery
Killer storms lash France
16 Jul 03  |  Europe
Europe bakes in historic highs
15 Jul 03  |  Europe
Emergency threat in dry Italy
14 Jul 03  |  Europe


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