Juana Gasco shows a dry source in Albanchez de Mágina, in the province of Jaén (Andalusia, Spain), on November 20, 2017
Almost dry rivers, repeated deadly fires, desperate farmers … In the Iberian Peninsula they face a prolonged drought that threatens to become more frequent with climate change.
For three years, it has been raining less than normal over two thirds of Spain.
In Portugal, the drought was never so long according to meteorologists and 94% of its territory is in „extreme drought.“
The first to notice is the farmers, who see their businesses hit hard.
„It’s a ruinous situation,“ laments José Ramón González, a small rancher who has seen farmers toss the towel one after the other in Galicia, in northwestern Spain.
In the absence of grass, he had to buy forage since July, four months earlier than usual, with costs of thousands of euros.
„There are rivers, springs, that neither I at 45, nor my parents, nor my grandparents, saw dry and they have dried up“ in this region known for its rainfall, he says.
The cattle farmer José Tello, 67 years old, shows the thinness of a lamb due to lack of food due to the drought, which hits Spain and Portugal hard this autumn
By October 31, the entity in charge of Spanish agricultural insurance, Agroseguro, accounted for 1.38 million hectares of cereals, sunflowers or olive trees affected by drought or frost in Spain, which has caused more than 200 million euros in compensation.
„It’s like when you get sick, what you feel is impotence, you can not do anything, this disease is called drought,“ says Vicente Ortiz, farmer and rancher in Castilla-La Mancha, south of Madrid.
He assures that his cereal harvest fell by 70% with respect to the previous year and foresees that the harvest of olives falls by half.
„From the cultivation of olive trees to cereals, through vineyards, all agriculture suffers from this lack of water in our region,“ says Fremelinda Carvalho, president of the Association of Farmers of Portalegre, in central Portugal.
The desiccation of land favors the fires, which this year left 109 dead in Portugal and 5 in the neighboring region of Galicia, in Spain.
– Conflicts over water –
Very low water levels in the Andalusian Reservoir of Albanchez de Mágina, near Jaéon
The watersheds show abnormally low levels: in Portugal, 28 of 60 of them had at the end of October a level below 40% of their total capacity.
This weekend, a hundred fire trucks began to transfer from one dam to another 60 kilometers, which feeds the city of Viseu, currently supplied with tankers.
In Spain, the Tajo’s water reserves, which cross the country until they reach the Atlantic in Lisbon, are at 39.9% of capacity.
Those of the Duero, which flows into Oporto, were even lower (29.6%) and those of Segura, which flows through the southeast of the peninsula, barely reached 13.1%.
The Spanish energy group Iberdrola reported a drop in hydroelectric production in Spain of 58% year-on-year between January and September.
This situation feeds the conflicts between farmers and between regions for the use of water.
For example, the transfer of water from Tajo to Segura, used since the 1960s under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, receives criticism from all fronts.
Droughts threaten to accentuate in the future due to climate change, experts warn
Antonio Luengo, director of the water agency of Castilla-La Mancha, says that the Tagus „can not stand it.“
The development of intensive agriculture of fruits and vegetables in regions of south-east Spain „have created such a surface of demand that they need to desalinate“ Mediterranean water, denounces.
– Climatic risks –
The droughts threaten to accentuate in the future.
„Since the year 1980, the climate of Spain is experiencing signs of climate change, which have accelerated since 2000,“ says Jorge Olcina, geographer at the University of Alicante.
The climate of Spain „tends to have more subtropical features: higher temperatures and rarer and more intense rainfall,“ he explains.
„Therefore, climate risks related to temperatures (heat waves) and rain (droughts and floods) will increase in the coming decades,“ he warns.
Julio Barea, Greenpeace spokesman, denounces „a very bad water management“ by the Spanish government. „Droughts have to be managed when we have water,“ he says.
It blames crops and intensive livestock that demand too much water for the Mediterranean climate and irrigation of plants that do not need it, such as olive or almond trees.
The Portuguese farmer Antonio Granadeiro walks through his lands in the Alentejo, the central region of Portugal, lamenting the serious drought that the Iberian Peninsula suffers
„We have to build more dams to retain water when there is one,“ Carvalho says in Portugal.
Both governments have unlocked funds to compensate farmers but, for them, the only solution is to return the rains.
„We are constantly looking at the sky,“ says Vicente Ortiz.