Farmers in ‘water wars’ in southern Spain as droughts threaten their livelihoods | world news

Water levels in one of the largest reservoirs in southern Spain are on the verge of drying up, threatening tourism and farming livelihoods.

The receding water at the Vinuela Reservoir has shocked and worried nearby residents who are already under restrictions aimed at limiting use.

The reservoir is only about 12% full after Spain recorded record high temperatures in July, amid the country’s driest period in more than 1,200 years.

The crisis has also sparked what have been called “water wars”, as worried communities argue over exactly what led to this position.

The dry bed of the Vinuela reservoir in southern Spain

In the Malaga region, this has led to a breakdown in relations, as environmentalists blame the water shortage on farmers who have turned to more lucrative tropical fruits that require more water.

But farmers insist on soaring temperatures and increasingly severe and long dry spells brought about by climate change – and they are suffering the consequences.

Farmer Paco Marin, 45, told us that farmers were at the forefront of recognizing that lifestyles needed to change.

“Fires, droughts, they’re all caused by climate change, but we as humans are all causing this climate change, so we have to change.”

Farmer Paco Marin
Farmer Paco Marin

He grows avocados and mangoes as well as more traditional oranges, lemons and olives. But low rainfall has meant that his mangoes have shrunk to half their usual size and he has seen his income drop by around almost a quarter in recent years.

He shows us his irrigation system that he installed and says that it is very efficient and does not waste water.

But environmentalists believe the irrigation schemes are contributing to dripping water and they want them banned with more focus on recycling water and building a desalination plant in the area.

Raphael Yus
Rafael Yus from Ecologists in Action

“They (the irrigation systems) should be stopped,” says Rafael Yus of Ecologistas En Accion (Ecologists in Action).

“And farmers should be encouraged to diversify and grow other fruits, not tropical fruits.”

We stand on the dry bed of the Vinuela reservoir where the buoys are stuck, still attached to their equally beached boats and anchors.

Elena Sanchis once ran a water adventure business there, but for the first time was unable to open this summer as low water levels made any adventure impossible.

Vinuela Reservoir.  Photo: Chris Cunningham
Vinuela Reservoir. Photo: Chris Cunningham

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She thinks the community and the authorities need to come together to try to find a new approach to what is likely to become an increasingly difficult problem.

“Growing tropical fruits doesn’t use as much water,” she said.

“I’ve done my research – and we have to recognize that tropical fruits provide jobs for around 10,000 people here. What will happen to them if tropical agriculture stops?”

Vinuela Reservoir

Spain is Europe’s main supplier of fruit and vegetables and the world’s largest supplier of olives – but with poor yields, these supply chains now look under threat.

Spain’s water crisis is set to extend far beyond its own borders.

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