DESERT CONTINUES TO CREEP UP

Spain is drying up, according to a report from the National Action Programme for the Fight against Desertification (PAND). The 262-page report warned that 18% of the country is running a high or very high risk of desertification, with another 19% running a medium risk. The areas with the most problems are Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, Murcia, Alicante, Almeria and the Albacete and Ciudad Real provinces in Castilla-La Mancha. These are the areas with the greatest over-exploitation of the precious liquid and where the aquifers are becoming salty. The measures proposed to stop the desertification process revolve around the reforestation of those areas but a spokesman for Ecologists in Action criticised the delay in approving the plans “despite Spain being one of the countries most affected by desertification”. He also pointed out that the report did not address the problem of fertile soil being lost because of massive urbanisation and said its impact on desertification had been undervalued. But he said: “The PAND report is insufficient but it’s better than nothing, because it does look at agrarian practices that provoke desertification.” Yet there is little agreement in the country on how to tackle the problem of water shortage. In fact, there is so much disagreement that journalists and politicians alike are now referring to “water wars”, because water has set region against region, north against south and government against opposition. When the city of Barcelona nearly ran out of water earlier this year, the government of Catalonia pleaded for water to be transferred from rivers like the Ebro, in neighbouring regions, but they refused. The main opposition party, the Partido Popular (PP) believes in transferring water around the country because, as a PP spokesman said: “It’s incomprehensible that, in one country, there is an excess of water in one place and a deficit in another.” But when the present Socialist government got into power in 2004, it cancelled all the PP’s plans to send water from the north-west to the arid zones of the south-east. Instead, it is building more desalination plants, adding to the more than 900 already in Spain – the largest number in any one country outside the Middle East. The PP, supported by some environmentalists, has said the ambitious desalination plant programme, with its huge energy needs, will only add to the amount of CO2 produced, which in turn will add to global warming and thereby increase the country’s problems. The government, supported by other environmentalists (even the Greens disagree about water in Spain), argue that the expense and ecological damage caused by rerouting of rivers is far worse.

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