The Rhine, which is Europe’s main waterway for cargo riverboats, fell to record low levels in the summer of 2022. The drought caused production to be cut or stopped and sent a profound economic shock throughout the country. Bisecting about 800 miles through Europe from its source in the Alps, the Rhine was used to transport almost 170 million tons of vital goods in 2021, including oil products, coal, and iron ore.

An early indicator that this may be happening again is the trend of shallow waters on the Rhine disrupting barge traffic and forcing up the cost of shipping. At Kaub, a key waypoint in western Germany, the river-measure is the lowest it’s been this time of year since 2017. Already barges hauling diesel fuel into inland Europe are restricted to loading about half-capacity, as a full cargo load will make the vessel sit too low in the channel. Last summer, the drying up of Europe’s waterways disrupted an $80 billion trade business, affecting oil refining, chemical production, power generation, and corn farming.

While the Rhine still has some cushion before becoming a full-blown crisis, the desiccated conditions are a forewarning of what could happen—again.

We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as they occur.

By Clarissa Chiclana

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