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‘Hunger stones’ tell Elbe’s centuries-old tale of drought

The boulder, which was embedded deep in river, has reappeared in the Czech Republic after a dry spell
Once an ominous harbinger of hard times and even famine due to critically low water levels, a massive “hunger stone” embedded deep in the Elbe River has reappeared in the Czech Republic after Europe’s long, dry summer. The boulder in the town of Decin, north of the capital Prague, is roughly the size of a van and bears the foreboding inscription, “If you can see me, then weep”.
Boatman and riverside innkeeper Franz Mayer etched the words in German — “Wenn du mich siehst, dann weine” — during a period of low water in 1904 in the days when the country was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
“Over the centuries, many people earned their living on the Elbe as rafters, and when there wasn’t enough water to float their rafts, they lost their livelihoods,” Vlastimil Pazourek, head of the museum in Decin, said.
“The rafters engraved the dates of those bad years on the soft sandstone boulders typical for this region, hence the name ‘hunger stone’,” Mr. Pazourek said. About 20 such boulders, engraved with markers and dates going back centuries, can still be found on the banks of the Elbe, a major central European waterway running from the Czech Republic through Germany to the North Sea. Marked “1616”, the hunger stone on the river’s left bank in Decin, which lies 20 km from the German border, bears one of the oldest dates. A lot of water has since flowed under the bridges on the Elbe, which is no longer the same river that Franz Mayer knew when he left his etched lament. Prague experienced its hottest summer since records started in 1775, the weather institute said last week.
“Complications arise when the level of the Elbe in Decin is down to around 250 cm, and if it drops below 115 cm, river transport is no longer viable,” Mr. Petr said.
“A similar situation occurred in 2015 and 2016, but this year, the water level has fallen more rapidly in a way that hasn’t been seen in the last two decades,” he said. Experts predict ebbing river levels will become the norm in coming years.
“Due to climate change, low river levels will be even more frequent,” the Prague-based Arnika environmental NGO quoted a hydrology specialist, Tobias Conradt, as saying. “What we consider extreme today, will become an everyday reality in the decades to come,” he added.
Source : https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-life/hunger-stones-tell-elbes-centuries-old-tale-of-drought/article24920618.ece

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