Spain Sweats Amid 'Water Wars'

Spain Sweats Amid 'Water Wars'

Spain is experiencing its worst drought in 40 years. Climate experts warn that the country is suffering badly from the impact of climate change and that the Sahara is slowly creeping north - into the Spanish mainland.
A dry fountain: Spanish children are learning about climate change

Yet in Spain itself there is little consensus about what is to be done. Indeed, such is the disagreement that journalists and politicians alike are calling it "water wars".

A farmer and politician, Angel Carcia Udon, said: "Water arouses passions because it can be used as a weapon, a political weapon, just as oil is a political weapon".

And water in Spain 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 fountains were switched off and severe restrictions were introduced.

The government of Catalonia pleaded for water to be transferred from rivers like the Ebro, in neighbouring regions, but they refused.

Instead, the city imported tonnes of litres of water from France and accelerated work on the giant desalination plant on the edge of Barcelona, which promises to provide 180,000 cubic metres of water a day.

Parched land

But Barcelona is not alone in its insatiable thirst. Apart from the far north, the entire country is suffering, especially the parched areas on the Mediterranean coast, from Catalonia, down through Valencia, Alicante, Murcia and Almeria.

Mr Udon, whose Popular Party (PP) believes in transferring water around the country, said: "It's incomprehensible that, in one country, there is an excess of water in one place and a deficit in another.
The landscape of eastern Spain looks more parched than usual

"Even more incomprehensible is that they expect us to use water from desalination plants, which is expensive and would force us to raise prices."

But when the present PSOE Socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero got into power in 2004, they cancelled all the PP's plans to send water from the north-west to the arid zones of the south-east.

Instead, the government 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.

They are working night and day at the one at Llogrebat, close to Barcelona airport. The general manager, Juan Compte Costa, assured me that it was the most cost-effective and energy-efficient desalination plant yet.

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Countries all over the world I fear will be led into the same trap of desalination because people refuse to conserve water and press governments to shore up infrastructure, present conservation initiatives, and work on efficient agricultural irrigation along with facing overpopulation and climate change by cutting CO2 emissions. And let's face it, that is because there is money to be made from building desalination plants by the companies building them and the politicians calling for them.

Companies (like Dow Chemical) will be pushing drought stricken areas to build them even if they still have a chance to save enough water to provide for their cities. And while I would be for it in truly dire circumstances with the proper safeguards, building such plants is not enough because they cannot be built in time to do what is necessary to provide for people now. Also, desalination plants are expensive, energy intensive, and the full effects of returning brackish water back into the seas on marinelife is not fully known. And what of the land to build them?

This world is now truly in a situaiton that is a viscious cycle of its own making, all because the human species cannot seem to do the one thing that will get us out of this... act and change.