A spokesman for the Cuenca Mediterranea Andaluza (Mediterranean Water Board) said last week that Malaga needs another dozen downpours like the recent ones ten days ago or six weeks of steady rain to end the drought that has been affecting the province for the past four years. Antonio Rodriguez Leal said the province would need 40% more rain above the annual average of 560 litres per square metre, that is, 800 litres per m2 to fill the reservoirs, which are still too low.
After a 15-month campaign costing 150,000 to persuade the residents of Marbella to keep their streets clean, the Town Hall has taken off the kid gloves and started fining litterbugs, god owners who do not clean up after their pets and people who leave their rubbish in the street outside the allotted hours of 9-11 pm. Since a plain-clothes policeman and a team of “tecnicos (experts)” began patrolling the streets on September 15th, they have handed out 84 fines ranging for €25 (for dog owners) to €600 for hotels and stores, for a total amount of more than €32,000. The biggest fine – €2,400 – is reserved for the owners of dogs belonging to dangerous breeds who do not wear muzzles when walking them in public. A Town Hall spokesman said dog owners are now becoming “more aware” since the fines started.
The first snow of the winter was spotted early Sunday morning on the mountains behind Coin and Malaga city, to cap a week of steady rain and gusting winds. Last week’s rain has gone a long way to replenishing the reservoirs but still more is needed before the four-year-long drought can be declared officially over.
Dozens of international scientists met last month at Neiker Tecnalia, a 200-year-old potato research centre, in Vitoria-Gasteiz, in the Basque country, to discuss advances in potato farming that could be used in poorer countries. They said potatoes have a lot going for them. They are a good source of protein, starch, vitamins and nutrients like zinc and iron, and as a crop, they require less energy and water to grow than wheat, taking just three months from planting to harvest. Since they are heavy and do not transport well, they are not generally traded on world financial markets, making their price less vulnerable to speculation. They are not generally used to produce biofuels, a new use for food crops that has helped drive up grain prices. When grain prices skyrocketed, potato prices remained stable. With governments having trouble feeding the growing number of hungry poor and grain prices fluctuating wildly, food scientists are proposing a novel solution for the global food crisis: Let them eat potatoes. A decade ago, the vast majority of potatoes were grown and eaten in the developed world, mostly in Europe and the Americas. Today, China and India – neither big potato-eating countries in the past – rank first and third, respectively, in global potato production. When the United Nations announced last year that 2008 would be the Year of the Potato, few took it seriously. That was before grain prices doubled and the United Nations World Food Program announced that it needed an extra half billion dollars to buy grain. So now the potato is coming into its own. It is no longer a food fit for peasants and pigs but a serious nutritional aid and an object of scientific study.
Helen Thirlway, UK Director of the International Primate Protection League, has strongly condemned the Gibraltar government’s culling of around ten of the world-famous “Barbary apes”, even though her organisation and a coalition of animal welfare and conservation groups had found somewhere to relocate them. The groups had been working beghind the scenes to save the apes since April, when the government announced plans to cull around 25 of them. The groups had succeeded in finding a home for the condemned primates back in May and were still discussing the terms of a relocation plan with the Gibraltar government when the killings allegedly took place. Ms Thirlway said: “The government assured us that they were culling because they could not relocate. We found a home for the monkeys, and offered our assistance in moving them, and now we have been informed by a reliable source that half of the group have been culled anyway. We can only assume that the motivation for this unethical decision was a financial one; we can find no other explanation and all we have had from the government is a damning silence on the matter.” She added: “We urge the people of Gibraltar to demand that culling stops once and for all. The authorities know exactly what needs to be done; they need to employ wardens, enforce the feeding ban, cover rubbish sites, and invest in a more comprehensive contraception programme. So why do they not simply do so? Is this really about looking after the people of Gibraltar, or is it simply about protecting the interests of a few wealthy property developers?”
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero used his two-day stay in Beijing, where he attended the Euro-Asian Summit last week, to continue his attempts to get an invitation to the summit on the world economic crisis, to be held in Washington on November 15th. President George W Bush has only invited the leaders of the G-20 nations, which does not include Spain. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is the current EU president, said last Saturday that EU leaders would attend the summit as a bloc. Both Mr Sarkozy and Britain’s Gordon Brown, have said Sr Zapatero should be at the summit. Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos has said that Spain is doing everything possible to be at the Washington summit: “We consider that we have all the legitimate right to be present in this meeting.” Spanish newspapers claim that Mr Bush has not invited Sr Zapatero to the meeting to punish him for withdrawing Spain’s peace-keeping troops from Iraq immediate shortly after he was elected in March 2004. They also highlight the incident when Sr Zapatero, then leader of the opposition, refused to stand up when the American troops marched past the politicians’ stand at the National Day military parade on October 12, 2003.
Former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar hit out last week at those he called “standard-bearers of the apocalypse” who continue to warn about climate change. He was speaking at the presentation of the Spanish translation of “Blue Planet (Not Green)” written by Czech Republic President Vackla Klaus, published by the conservative think tank FAES, of which Sr Aznar is chairman. Sr Aznar said climate change is not a real phenomenon, but only a “scientifically questionable” theory which had become the new religion, whose followers were the “enemies of freedom”. The Partido Popular, which he led to election victory in 1996 and 2000 immediately dissociated itself from Aznar. The PP representative on Parliament’s Committee on Climate Change stressed the party’s “firm commitment” to the fight against global warming, a phenomenon she said “could not be doubted”. Joan Herrera, a Catalan nationalist MP said Sr Aznar was a “functional illiterate” and “irresponsible”. Sr Aznar’s words fly in the face of the conclusions from 2,500 scientists who make up the United Nations Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) about the human causes of global warming and the serious consequences of not reducing CO2 emissions.
Conservation International president Russell Mittermeier told the World Conservation Congress (WCC) held in Barcelona recently that climate change could be the best thing that ever happened to the amazing array of animal and plant species that make up the Earth’s biodiversity. He told representatives from governments, indigenous peoples, industry and environmental groups not to get him wrong: “Climate change is the most serious environmental threat we have ever encountered, and it is already taking a terrible toll on species, as well as people, all over the world. The silver lining is that climate change has triggered a universal wake-up call that we all hear, and are beginning to heed.” He said that never before have so many sectors of society been equally concerned and motivated to combat an environmental threat, despite the die-hard pessimists who say it’s too late, that the climate change train has left the station and there is nothing we can do but get ready for catastrophic consequences. “Nothing could be more wrong,” he said. “Just ask the thousands of participants at the World Conservation Congress (WCC) here in Barcelona, where pessimism is not on the agenda. Instead, smart constructive ideas for solutions are being shared.” The major news announced at the WCC on Monday was that the latest assessment of the world’s mammals shows more than 20% to be threatened with extinction. That includes 188 mammals, such as the Iberian Lynx, in the highest threat category of Critically Endangered. Mr Mittermeier asked: “Why should people care about the fate of these plants and animals? Because the quality of our lives ultimately depends on them.” He said: “Without species diversity, we wouldn’t have the healthy ecosystems that supply our food, cleanse our air and water, provide sources of life-saving medicines and help stabilise our climate.” He said the message Barcelona could send to the rest of the world is that it is not too late to protect species as well as combat climate change: “On both counts, the welfare of humanity is at stake.”
A British woman and one of her twin daughters died in a flash flood in Valencia last Thursday. Lorraine Cullen, 47, and Lauren, 14, died trying to cross a ravine with fellow twin Samantha and the girls’ Spanish friend Gemma. Mark Cullen said the swollen river was only up to their knees but “one of them slipped and the others came crashing down”. He said Samantha grabbed hold of a tree and pulled Gemma to safety but “Lorraine and Lauren were gone”. The incident happened as the group attempted to walk across the ravine to their holiday home in L’Olleria in the Valencia region. Their bodies were found early last Friday morning, just over a mile downriver. Mr Cullen flew out to Valencia with his sons Daniel, 22, and Darren, 19, to be with his surviving daughter as she was treated at a local hospital. He and his wife had just celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. He said: “It’s a blur, you don’t expect to lose two members of your family in one hit.” Last week’s torrential rain left several rivers in the east of the country running dangerously high and closed the ports of Valencia, Gandia and Sagunto. It also blocked roads and railway lines. Ferry links to Tangier and Ceuta were suspended because of storms.
An earthquake measuring 4.7 on the Richter scale was felt in the provinces of Sevilla,Huelva, Cadiz, Cordoba, Jaen and Malaga just after 6.02 last Thursday. Its epicentre was in Morón de la Frontera in Sevilla province. It was followed by three aftershocks, at 6.05, 6.08 and 7.15, with the last one measuring 3.5 on the Richters scale, according the National Geographic Institute (IGN). An IGN spokesman said the movement was normal for the area. It was the latest of ten quakes registered in Andalucia in the past 12 months. No-one was killed or injured and there have been no reports of any serious material damage.
The Sierra de las Nieves was one of 20 recipients of the European Commission’s EDEN awards for excellence as a tourist destinations which goes beyond commercial success to guarantee the area’s social, cultural and environmental sustainability. The awards were handed out at the European Forum on Tourism which was held recently in Bordeaux in France. The areas which receive the EDEN awards benefit from the advertising the EC provides for them at tourism conferences, promoting their traditions, customs and artistic heritage. The EC award is the fruit of work done by Sierra de la Nieves Rural Development Group which promotes the socio-economic growth of the area consisting of nine municipalities – Alozaina, Casarabonela, El Burgo, Guaro, Istán, Monda, Ojen, Tolox and Yunquera.
The European Commission has asked Spain for information about more than 250 urbanisations which are either in the planning stage or already under construction in areas where there is a deficiency of water resources. The projects, located in Andalucia, Castilla-La Mancha, Murcia and Valencia have not received the go-ahead by the regional water authorities, according to Spain’s Euro-deputy David Hammerstein. The Commission’s Environmental commissionaire, Stavros Dimas, has also asked the Spanish government to explain its plans “for guaranteeing the fulfilment of the EU’s Water Guidelines on Water” which were introduced to preserve the quality and quantity of water resources in the medium- and long-term. Sr Hammerstein said the EC’s investigation “could cast legal doubts on the construction of hundreds of thousands of houses in areas where water shortages are endemic”.
More than 1,200 residents of the El Sexmo district of Cartama have been told by the local council not to drink the water from their taps. Because of the drought water levels in the wells in the area have dropped considerably and the remaining water contains high concentrations of nitrates. These salts are not harmful in small doses but pose a health risk when taken in high doses over a period of time. A council spokesman said pregnant women and small babies are particularly vulnerable. He said the tap water could be used for washing clothes and dishes and taking showers but until the problem is sorted out, council water tankers will distribute clean water to all the houses in the area.
The Environment Ministry has declared a project to build 1,446 houses and apartments in Barranco Blanco, in Alhaurin el Grande municipality, “non-viable”, putting an end to months of controversy. The Junta de Andalucia had already objected to the project but Alhaurin Mayor Juan Martín Serón re-presented it, this time with fewer houses and all the building concentrated in the centre of Barranco Blanco’s 146.7 hectares. However, a topographical report said the land – with slopes of up to 40% in some parts – was totally unsuitable for building, requiring many support pillars and containing walls that would have a disastrous visual effect on the landscape in what it called “this ecological corridor” between the sierras of Mojas, Alpujata, Blanca, Bermeja and Coín. The Junta based its decision on the fact that the aquifer the developers planned to use for the urbanisation’s water supply was already very depleted. It also warned that the urbanisation would contaminate the water supplied to residents of Coin and Monda if its recycling system ever broke down. The urbanisation would also affect the Alaminos River, which was declared a Place of Community Importance by the European Union in 2006. Barranco Blanco is home to several protected species such as the mountain cat, the genet, the weasel and the tree marten. It is also a hunting ground for vulnerable species such as the peregrine falcon and the royal eagle, and more than 95% of the flora in the area are on the EU’s conservation list. Mayor Serón attacked the Junta’s decision as “sectarian” and “vengeful”. He belongs to the opposition party, the Partido Popular, while the Junta is Socialist. He also implied that a person he refused to name, who had occupied a high position in the Junta, had a personal interest in the matter.
The site of Expo 2008 which ended in Zaragoza last weekend will house a new institute on climate change as of next year. More than 120 scientists from all over Europe will work at the institute which will be housed in two of the current expo pavilions. Science, Innovation and Technology Minister Cristina Garmendia said their objective will be to find solutions to climate change at a European level. The Science and Environment ministries will be involved in the project together with the Aragón regional government and Zaragoza City Hall.
Just as it was beginning to look as if the Costa del Sol would not suffer any fires this year, a blaze broke out close to the Las Terrazas and Buenavista urbanisations in the Sierra de Mijas last Thursday evening. Some 75 hectares of scrub were destroyed and no-one had to be evacuated before the blaze was brought under control by midday Friday. However, several residents left their homes voluntarily – just in case. The fire started in three different places which fire fighters said indicates that it was deliberately set. Some 380 people were involved un putting out the fire – firemen from the brigades in Mijas, Benalmádena, Marbella, Fuengirola and Torremolinos, as well as Infoca personnel, Guardia Civil agents, the National and Local police, Protección Civil, the Red Cross and Forestry personnel. Many local residents also joined in the effort. The regional Environment Department said that 70% of the land affected would recover naturally. The Mijas fire broke out the day after another blaze spread rapidly through 500 hectares of nature park near Tarifa last Tuesday. During a visit to the area the following day, Junta de Andalucia president Manuel Chaves said there were indications that the fire had been started deliberately, and if that were the case, the culprits would be tracked down and “made to pay the consequences of their guilt and irresponsibility”. Some 1,000 local residents were evacuated from their homes for a time but were allowed back last Thursday. Meanwhile, fire fighters found 80 kilos of hashish, in bales, in the burnt-out area. The fires broke out just as the Environment Ministry in Madrid announced that forest fires were down nearly 70% this year in comparison with 2007, despite the fact that most of the country has been suffering from drought for the fourth year running. A spokesman said this could be the result of an ongoing awareness-raising campaign which has made people realise how easy it is to start a fire, as well as tougher penalties for those who do start them, either deliberately or accidentally. He said local authorities had also stepped up efforts to catch pyromaniacs and to deter fire fighters themselves from starting blazes in order to keep themselves in a job.
The Junta de Andalucia’s Coasts Department is to spend €5.6 million on sand over the next two years to improve the beaches along the Costa del Sol. A spokesman said 14 beaches will receive some 13 million cubic metres of sand which will come from a new exploitation of the Calahinda Cabo-Pino sea bed. This year, just over 400,000 cubic metres of sand from the Fuengirola, Guadalhorce and other rivers and streams in the area, of which Marbella’s beaches received the largest single allocation of 90,000 cubic metres.
A judge in Almería Rivera ruled last week that the Junta de Andalucia and the Socialist-controlled Carboneras Town Council ignored the Coasts Law and the plan for the Cabo de Gata Nature Park when they allowed the Hotel Algarrobico to be built just 28 metres from the shore, and to insist for years that it was legal. He declared the licence for the hotel to be null and void and called on the prosecutor to investigate who is responsible at both a local and regional level, as he considered a perversion of the course of justice has been committed. The hotel’s developed, Azata del Sol, will demand €100 million in compensation if the building is expropriated and demolished.