“In Switzerland, we’re not used to the idea of droughts”, said Sonia Seneviratne, professor of land-climate dynamics at ETH Zurich research university. “We see ourselves as being this water fortress of Europe, but as glaciers shrink and summer temperatures become more extreme this is less and less a reality.”

The water shortages are part of a severe drought sweeping the continent from Portugal to eastern Europe and southern England to Italy. Scientists blame the combination of an unusually dry winter followed by an equally dry spring and a summer of baking heat, part of a warming trend brought on by climate change.

The drought and extremely high temperatures across Europe — France has been gripped by a third heatwave of the summer — are affecting households, industry, transport and tourism, as well as farming and agriculture. The tinderdry ground also provides ideal conditions for the wildfires that have ravaged France, Portugal and other countries.

French prime minister Élisabeth Borne on Friday activated a special crisis unit to tackle what she said was the worst drought in the country’s history. Of the 96 départements in European France, all but three have water restrictions in place and about two-thirds are classified as in “crisis”, according to the environment ministry.

In the western Loire valley, cattle farmer Clément Traineau said it was the worst that he or his 65-year-old father had ever experienced. The grass in his pastures has long since withered due to the heat and months with very little rain, and the corn that would be used to feed his cows later in the year had shriveled in a hot wind that feels “like a hair dryer”.

“It’s not just the surface, the soil is dry deep down,” he explained. “The trees in the forests are losing their leaves — it’s not pretty. It’s worse than 1976, which