Spain is living through its worst drought in decades, with devastating, but also surprising effects. Reservoirs have dried up, crops have died and wildfires have caused destruction and the unrelenting dry weather means many towns and villages are suffering severe shortages of drinking water.
The latest data shows some 37 of 150 districts nationwide were in an ‘emergency situation’ at the end of June as a result of the lack of water. ‘Emergency’ is the most serious level of classification.
At 43 percent capacity, reservoirs are at their lowest levels in decades according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment. They are normally at around 60 percent at this time of year. Springs have even dried up in Galicia in the north east – traditionally one of Spain’s wettest regions. Water reserves are almost 26 percent below the average over the last ten years.
The government has imposed emergency drought measures in some parts of the country.
But, the dry weather has had an unexpected impact in a dozen ancient villages. What was left of the abandoned northern town of Mansilla de la Sierra, in La Rioja, was engulfed with water when a reservoir was created in 1959. But this summer’s dry weather has seen the settlement re-emerge, giving people the opportunity to roam around and even giving some local residents the chance to return to their former homes.
2017 is the third driest year on record, behind 1981 and 2005. According to the State Agency of Meteorology (Aemet), cumulative rain so far this hydrological year (October 1-September 30) is down 12 percent.
Congress is now tasked with adopting a draft law on critically-needed measures to reverse the impact of the drought.
Other parts of southern Europe are also impacted. In Italy, cereal production could fall to its lowest in at least two decades. Other regional crops, including olives and almonds, are also expected to be hit.
Spain’s largest cereal-growing region, Castilla y Leon, has been particularly badly impacted, with crop losses estimated at between 60 and 70 percent.
Ranchers are also concerned about a potential lack of grasses for the cattle to feed on.