French departments declare drought as temperatures soar
A heat wave sweeping across France since the weekend following a prolonged period of low rainfall has led the government to declare a drought in 15 of the country's 96 mainland departments, the environment ministry has said.
Ten departments joined the list of drought-stricken areas as temperatures crept up this month, exceeding 30 degrees C across central and southern France since the weekend. This brings the number of departments instructed to be "vigilant" with their water use or put on hosepipe bans and other limitations up to 15.
The high temperatures add to problems caused by low groundwater levels following a dry winter - rainfall was below average between October 2005 and March 2006, Meteo France, the state weather agency, reported this week.
The environment ministry declared a "water crisis" in the central department of Seine-et-Marne, limiting water use to the strictly essential, imposing bans on watering lawns, and car washing, except at professional stations that use a system of water recycling.
Among growing fears of a heat wave like the one France experienced in the summer of 2003, the health ministry issued advice on how to avoid dehydration and overheating, especially to the elderly, handicapped and children.
In 2003, when 15,000 people died as a prolonged heat wave swept across France, the authorities were accused of not having acted fast enough.
But the French health minister Xavier Bertrand said that, despite this week's high temperatures, the country is not yet in the grip of such a heat wave.