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France on drought alert after hottest spring since 1900

Reuters/Régis Duvignau

France is now on heatwave alert after the hottest spring since 1900 has left water tables down and farmers struggling to feed their livestock. The Health Ministry has put into effect level one of an anti-drought plan that was drawn up after 15,000 people died in the long-hot summer of 2003.

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Summer 2011 could be drier than summer 1973, when drought cost the economy an estimated 15 billion euros and a “drought tax” was introduced to raise 900 million euros to make up farmers’ losses, according to weather forecasters.

Spring this year has been the hottest since at last 1900 and the driest for 50 years. Temperatures have been 2.6°C higher than the average between 1971 and 2000.

Over half of the country’s départements are already limiting the use of water and farmers have already been promised millions of euros of aid.

The price of straw has been fixed at no higher than25 euros a tonne, Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire announced Tuesday.

The water shortage is likely to push already-rising food prices even higher but could mean a boost to tourism as holiday-makers head for Mediterrenean beaches.

Level one of the government’s heatwave plan puts weather-watchers and health authorities on alert. An emergency phone line has been set up with the number 0800066666.

The highest level of alert allows the government to bring in the army and order news media to broadcast government announcements on how to react to the crisis.

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