Czech University of Life Sciences warns of dire economic costs of prolonged drought

Photo: Manfred Richter, Pixabay / CC0

Another long-term drought could cost the Czech economy up to 80 billion crowns, equivalent to a drop of 1.6 percentage points in GDP, according to a new study. Researchers at the University of Life Sciences warn that in order to conserve water for essential use, key industries would be forced to cut production, adding an exponential ripple effect to the surface-level economic impact.

Photo: Manfred Richter,  Pixabay / CC0
Researchers from the university’s Centre for Water, Soil and Landscape have mapped out two economic impact scenarios, drawing on data from 150 types of industry.

The more optimistic scenario factors in a 25 percent drop in average rainfall, surface and groundwater; enough for the paper and textiles industries, among others, to have to sharply curtail production.

The darker scenario is for a 50 percent drop. At that level, factoring related social and health costs linked to drought, Czech GDP could fall 2.8 to 4.8 percentage points.

What’s more, the Czech Republic has among the least amount of water resources per capita in Europe -- and so would have to import water.

Cape Town,  photo: Andres de Wet,  Wikimedia CC 3.0
Cities would be hit hardest, said economist Petr Procházka, citing studies showing urban development is changing storm patterns and rainfall.

“For example, water must be imported now in Cape Town, South Africa, where about 4 million people live, and in Chennai, India, where 7 million people live.

“Current research shows that it rains less in cities than outside of them. This is related to greenery, and Czech cities do not have enough greenery. There is also the problem of water drainage.”

New emergency fall short

Over 60 percent of Czech territory experienced exceptional or extreme drought this year and the last, leading the government in July to amend the Water Act to better respond to drought conditions.

Petr Sklenička,  photo: Czech University of Life Sciences
Under the revised legislation, committees led by regional governors now have the power to implement regulate surface water consumption by households, companies and agricultural cooperatives.

But Dr. Petr Sklenička, rector of the Czech University of Life Sciences, and a principal author of its “Smart Landscape 2030+” project, says such measures are woefully insufficient. He estimates it could take up to 500 billion crowns of investment over the coming 30 years to ensure water security, including training new experts in land and water management.

“In short, we lack the capacity. Anyone just looking to build a fish pond knows how long a wait there is to get a contractor. And this country needs real water management infrastructure. But we lack experts in irrigation, and must start educating some again after 30 years. We, and the Czech Technical University, must push for education in the sector.”

The Centre for Water, Soil and Landscape study says it takes 300 litres of water to produce a kilo of paper, and 1,500 litres to make a kilo of bread. Due to global warming, it is crucial important to measure and charge industries for their true “water footprint”, the researchers say.

Photo: Pavel Pavlas,  Czech Radio
The economist Procházka says one possibility is to establish a water market that reflects the real price, including all external costs, and a system of water emission allowances.

“We are working on designing economic tools that would help solve drought in the Czech Republic. Research shows one crown invested in proactive adaptive risk management saves two crowns spent in the wake of a drought.”