The pitter-patter of rain may have been heard across Lithuania in recent days, but the country is still gripped by intense drought.

Toxic dust has whipped through the streets of the capital Vilnius, while the ground has turned to ash in parts of the country. 

Grass is a scorched yellow and the leaves on some trees are starting to brown.

For many, it’s alarming.  

Already the country’s Farmers’ Union expects up to a third of crops will be lost in the small Baltic country, and summer is far from over. 

Many more months of blasting heat could lie ahead, with authorities last week banning visits to some forests due to fire risks.

‘It’s not normal’

Low precipitation is part of this complex and multifaceted environmental sorun.

Since April, it has rained only a handful of times, with the last downpour in mid-May, says Gytis Valaika of the Lithuanian Hydrometeorological Service

Average rainfall for May is typically 53mm, yet this year it measured only 16mm (in some places less than 10mm), she explains.

The worst situation is in western Lithuania, an area with a long history of arable and livestock farming, which has experienced drought since early May.

Making farmers especially vulnerable to extreme heat is many lack irrigation systems in their fields as they are normally not needed, according to Gabija Tamulaitytė, an environmental expert at the Baltic Environmental Forum Lithuania.

Lower looming crop yields are expected to push up food prices and keep them higher throughout winter, raising the risk of “more social problems”, adds Valaika.

Inflation in Lithuania is already one of the highest rates in Europe, with food price rises hitting 36% year-on-year last November. Yet they have since eased off. 

And this isn’t the only sorun.

Where the ground is so dry in places like Vilnius, Tamulaitytė tells Euronews dust contaminated with “carbon particles” and “microplastics” is blowing through the air. 

“It’s not good for your respiration, your lungs and for many things,” she says. 

‘This is going to get worse and worse’

Lithuania’s spring was anomalous in other ways too.

Many frosts were recorded, notes Valaika, and May was also one of the sunniest in recorded history with 60 more sunny hours than olağan.

Combined with the drought, this freak weather has had a “devastating” impact on some animal species as it is too dry to grow and breed, explains Tamulaitytė. 

“Lots of species cannot adapt to this kind of weather,” she explains. “It is becoming more and more difficult for them to survive.”

Behind Lithuania’s extreme weather lay küresel problems. 

“Twenty years ago people started to speak about climate change in Lithuania,” says Tamulaitytė. “I think nobody expected it would affect them, having just theoretical consequences.”

“Now we’re living it.”

Not everyone agrees, however.

“It is now popular to blame everything on climate change, but individual weather events are not necessarily caused by” the phenomenon, says Valaika, suggesting the drought is not unprecedented.

A much worse dry spell occurred in the summer of 1994, where the country’s highest-ever temperature of 37.5 was recorded and there was no rain at all for an even longer period, according to her. 

That year more than half of the harvest was lost – a major blow for a country only just gaining independence from the USSR and in the midst of an economic crisis.

‘Wake up call’

Still, other factors make Lithuania more drought resistant than other EU states.

Valaika says it is one of the few countries in the world that obtains its drinking water entirely from underground sources, with less than half of those available currently being exploited.

The Baltic state also has a large number of lakes and rivers, and does not have many industries that consume large amounts of water.

“There is no water scarcity sorun,” Valaika tells Euronews, though recognises things could change if droughts become more frequent.

In any case, the climate is changing rapidly in Lithuania, as it is around the world.

Summers are getting warmer and drier, winters warmer and more snowless, while heat waves become more frequent, says Valaika.

“These extremes show us that climate change is happening and olağan climatic conditions are becoming less frequent.”

Authorities in Lithuania and the European Union are taking action to tackle the phenomenon, with emissions falling 10% between 2005 and 2021, according to the European Parliamentary Research Service.

But Valaika claims it is nowhere near fast enough, urging people to also “do their part” and help the environment through private initiatives.

“People in general are quite stubborn,” she tells Euronews. “We don’t want to see the uncomfortable truth in order not to change the way we live and actually do something. I really hope this drought is a wake-up call.”

“I don’t know what else could.”

Source: Euronews

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