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Spain's drought a 'national concern,' PM says

April 19, 2023

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has warned about the consequences of minimal rainfall and intense heat that officially put Spain into long-term drought last month.

A pedal boat is tied to a dock in a dried part of the Sau reservoir, about 100 km (62 miles) north of Barcelona, Spain
A wide area including Barcelona, home to about 6 million people, could enter a drought "emergency" by this SeptemberImage: Emilio Morenatti/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told parliament on Wednesday that the government sees drought as "one of the central political and territorial debates of our country over the coming years."

Last year was the hottest year on record for Spain — temperatures have risen by 1.3 degrees Celsius since the 1960s. The warming is especially noticeable during summer months when average temperatures have climbed by 1.6 degrees.

One of the worst affected regions currently is Catalonia in northeastern Spain. The autonomous region, which includes the city of Barcelona, is home to over 7.5 million people and could enter a drought "emergency" this September, according to Catalan authorities.

Nearly three years of drought have shrunk the water levels in the reservoirs that supply northern Catalonia to 27% capacity.

"At this point, it's the worst problem we're facing," said Catalan leader Pere Aragones, calling it one of "the worst droughts in 50 years."

Threatening water scarcity

In L'Espluga de Francoli, a town of 3,600 residents west of Barcelona, locals have been saving water to cope with water rationing measures.

Water supplies are turned off across homes in the area for nine hours during the night. The water usage limits have been in place since March, when Catalonia declared a second-tier emergency across heavily populated areas.

View of the Sau reservoir, about 100 km (62 miles) north of Barcelona, Spain
Water levels have been critically low in the Sau reservoir, north of Barcelona, with authorities starting an emergency transfer of its remaining reserves last month to preserve water purityImage: Emilio Morenatti/AP/dpa/picture alliance

"We keep water in bottles so we can brush our teeth and wash our faces in the morning," said Maria Gonzalez, a 24-year-old resident of the town.

Maria said that at night, locals shower either at work or at the gym or heat water in pans "like in the olden days."

Although residents in L'Espluga de Francoli suffered water supply issues before, the current drought has made it worse.

"Climate change... has taken hold very quickly over the past two or three years," said Xavier Rosell, who is responsible for environmental issues and municipal services in the area.

Why is there a drought?

Figures from the UN have shown that Europe is warming faster than any other continent.

Spain is particularly vulnerable — in the current "water year," a 12-month period starting in October, Spain's rainfall has been 21% lower than usually observed.

"The droughts caused by climate change are getting worse," said Narcis Prat, professor emeritus of ecology at the University of Barcelona, referring to rising temperatures increasing water evaporation.

As droughts hit countries around the Mediterranean Sea particularly badly, the region needs to find other ways of managing water, Prat told the AFP news agency.

"We'll need to change our current model of holding water in reservoirs for one which involves other resources... such as desalination plants or wastewater regeneration facilities," said Prat.

While Catalonia has suffered particularly badly, the current drought has affected the entire country.

"We're facing a difficult moment in terms of both water resources and rainfall," Luis Planas, Spain's agriculture minister, said on Tuesday.

Farmers lose crops

The agricultural sector has also suffered from the prolonged drought. Farmers' groups have urged the ministry in Spain to take emergency measures.

"[The government must] issue an emergency decree so it can adopt measures to address the catastrophic situation that many farmers and breeders are facing," said Andres Gongora, representative of the Spanish coordinator of farmers and livestock breeders association. 

"The challenge we face from climate change and water stress is evident," Sanchez said.

vh/sms (AFP, EFE)

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