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Farmers in ‘water wars’ in southern Spain as droughts threaten livelihoods

One of the largest reservoirs of southern Spain is at risk of drying up, threatening both tourism and farming livelihoods.

Residents living nearby are worried and shocked by the receding water level at Vinuela Reservoir. They have been working under restrictions to limit their usage.

After Spain’s record-breaking July temperatures, the reservoir has a mere 12% capacity. This is despite the country experiencing the driest period in over 1,200 years.

This crisis has also led to what’s being called “water wars”, as concerned communities debate the reasons for this situation.

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Image The Vinuela Reservoir’s bone-dry bed in southern Spain

It has led to a fracture of relationships in the Malaga region, with environmentalists blaming the water shortage on farmers who have switched to more lucrative tropical fruit, which require more water.

Farmers insist that the rising temperatures and prolonged dry spells are caused by climate change and are now suffering the consequences.

Paco Marin, a 45-year-old farmer, said that farmers had been the first to recognize that lifestyles needed to change.

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“The droughts, fires and heat waves are all caused by climate changes. But we, as humans, all contribute to this climate change, so we must change.”

Image Paco Marin

He is now farming mangoes and avocados in addition to the more traditional oranges lemons and olives. His mangoes have been reduced to half their normal size due to poor rainfall. He has seen a decrease in his income of nearly 25% over the last few years.

He shows us the irrigation system he has installed. He says it is efficient and doesn’t waste any water.

However, ecologists believe that the irrigation networks contribute to the water drop and want them to be banned. They also want more attention on water recycling and the construction of a desalination facility in the area.

Image Rafael Yus, Ecologists in Action

Rafael Yus, Ecologistas En Accion (Ecologists in Action), tells us that irrigation systems should be stopped.

“Farmers should be encouraged not to grow tropical fruits but to diversify their crops.”

We are standing on the Vinuela Reservoir’s bone dry bed, where buoys have been marooned and remain attached to their anchors and boats.

Elena Sanchis was once the owner of a water adventure company here. However, this summer it couldn’t open because of low water levels.

Image: Vinuela Reservoir. Pic by Chris Cunningham

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She believes that the authorities and the community need to come together in order to find a new approach to what is likely become an increasingly complex problem.

She said that “the tropical fruit farming doesn’t take up so many water”

“I have done my research and it is clear that tropical fruits are a source of employment for about 10,000 people in this area. What happens to them if tropical farming ceases?

Spain is Europe’s main fruit and vegetable supplier and the largest supplier of olives in the world. However, with low yields, these supply lines are now under threat.

The water crisis in Spain is likely to extend far beyond its borders.

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