BRUSSELS (AA) - Germany is under the threat of drought as summer temperatures and reduced rainfall have seen water levels fall further in the Rhine River, a major transportation route.
The depth of the river at some points has reached critical levels (below 40 centimeters) affecting private and industrial traffic on the river.
When the water level recedes, the highway and railway have to be put into operation significantly increasing the transportation costs.
German news agency dpa reported on Tuesday the water level of the Rhine at one of the benchmark measuring points near the Dutch border has reached a historic low of zero centimeters.
Germany’s government is now looking for ways to deepen the Rhine at strategic points, with the country's Transport Minister Volker Wissing saying on ARD TV earlier on Wednesday that more investment is underway in the rail and road network.
- Rivers shipping network
The Rhine, Danube, and Elbe rivers are Germany's most important waterways.
These rivers connect the country through various channels, forming a shipping network and making a significant contribution to Germany's industry and trade.
The Rhine starts in Switzerland, passes through the French border to Germany, and empties into the North Sea from the Netherlands.
Some 900 kilometers (559 miles) of the river are suitable for shipping -- connecting Germany's developed industrial regions to the supply chain.
About 300 million tons of goods and products are shipped from the Rhine each year, making up 80% of water transport in Germany.
- Ships not sailing at full capacity
Ships can no longer go fully loaded on the river route, with barges being loaded at one-quarter to half capacity, to keep them higher in the water.
This necessitates the use of more ships than usual or the transfer of these loads to trains or trucks.
Also, the low water level in the river slows down the speed and increases the transport costs excessively.
Recently, there have been difficulties in the supply of various raw materials from Rotterdam and Antwerp, Europe's largest ports, to factories and power plants in industrial centers in Germany.
Shippers have to transfer their cargo to trucks and railroads in narrow areas of the river.
In a time of high inflation, the bottleneck in global supply chains, and the natural gas crisis, the fall in the Rhine presents a new challenge for the German industry.
As energy companies are experiencing difficulties in shipping coal from the river, it is feared production in thermal power plants may decrease.
The German government, on the other hand, has decided that the railways should give priority to energy products, especially coal, due to the problem in river shipments.
According to a study by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, if water levels at the Kaub monitoring station -- where the river is narrow and shallow -- remain below the critical mark of 78 centimeters for a month, the industrial output of Europe's largest economy would diminish by around 1%.
- Economic growth will fall
Some economists predict that a disruption to the transportation on the Rhine may slow Germany's economic growth by 0.5%.
The Rhine normally sees its lowest level in autumn.
The water level in the river does not rise with just a short rainfall. Prolonged rainfall is required for these levels to rise.
In October 2018, the water level in the river reached a record low, with the depth in the narrow areas of the river reaching 25 centimeters.
*Writing and contributions by Aysu Bicer in Ankara