Environmental disaster stares in the face
The deserts of Africa are poised to jump the Mediterranean and up to a third of could soon become desert, according to a United Nations report.
Of equal concern, a Spanish Government study has found that rapid economic development has produced "extensive environmental degradation". In the last 15 years, 's greenhouse gas emissions have risen 300 per cent above the level agreed to in the Kyoto Protocol.
Although global climate change has played its part, overgrazing, irrigation practices that wash away topsoil and unchecked building along the coasts are blamed for the process of desertification and increasingly desperate water shortages.
The drought has wrecked crops and sparked forest fires.
and are suffering their worst droughts in at least 60 years, limiting hydroelectric power generation and forcing water restrictions.
The last severe drought in the 1990s lasted about five years. Environment Minister Cristina Narbona said: "We have to work, as we are, thinking that it is very probable that next year will also be a dry year."
After the poorest winter rain in 60 years, the capacity of Spanish rivers has fallen by 41 per cent. In Almanzora, in the south-east, long considered the "garden of Europe " for its prolific olive groves and vegetable crops, the reservoirs are dry. It has not rained in 15 years.
Around the south-eastern city of Alicante, the population of 150,000 swells to 1.1 million in August when millions of Europeans make their annual migration to 's beaches. Authorities believe the water reserves will see out the summer but predict serious problems in September if no further rain falls.
A recent editorial in the conservative ABC newspaper put the implications in simple terms. "If things continue like this, we won't need to go to Africa to enjoy the tranquillity of the desert. We can just go to the Canary Islands, or ."
Farmers are bearing the brunt of the crisis. Hard on the heels of a brutally cold winter when crops froze in the fields, farmers are permitted to water their crops for just eight minutes per day.
Adela Rebuelta, a farmer in the central Castilla La Mancha region, warns that "the countryside is being killed off and so is the way of life of those people who depend on it — from farmers to tractor drivers and traders.
"If things carry on like this, the labourers will end up in the big cities working in construction and they will leave behind them a desert, while we buy our wheat from the Australians and our lamb from ."
Despite dire warnings, evidence suggests the Spanish authorities are yet to take the crisis seriously. In Madrid alone, the capital's 28 golf courses use as much water in a day as a city of 100,000.