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River cruising on the Rhine and Danube in jeopardy thanks to Europe’s drought

(CNN) — Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the pandemic-snarled water, Europe is having another cataclysmic summer. This time, it’s not pandemic red tape, but what looks set to be the continent’s worst drought in history. Around 63% of the land across the EU and UK had either drought warnings or alerts, according to the EU’s European Drought Observatory last week — and that figure was issued before the UK declared a drought in eight out of 14 areas. New alerts are pouring in every day.

While the landscape is tinder-dry, water levels are plummeting. Rivers and lakes are drying up — and as well that having devastating effects on trade and industry, it’s also hitting a sector that was already on its knees thanks to the pandemic: tourism. Worse, experts say that this is a worrying sign of things to come.

Drama on the Rhine

The Rhine is now so low that commercial shipping is unsustainable.

Michael Probst/AP

The 766-mile Rhine is one of Europe’s most important trade routes, with container ships plying their way around its looping bends.

It’s also a classic cruise itinerary. But now some of those waterway dreams seem set to run aground.

On Saturday, the water level at the German town of Kaub — a critical juncture — slipped to just 36 centimeters, or 14 inches, according to official figures. That’s devastatingly low — at 40 centimeters, commercial shipping becomes unprofitable.

None of this is news, says Clare Weeden, principal lecturer in tourism and marketing at…

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