Portugal desperately needs rain

PORTUGAL IS going through a severe dry spell, in climatic terms, with most regions experiencing much higher temperatures than normal for the winter season – something most people are quite naturally pleased about. However, in hydrological terms, the situation is very worrying, particularly for the Algarve region, where two of the main dams currently stand at only 14 per cent of their water capacity.

Throughout most of the country, the level of rain has been less than average since November, according to the Instituto de Meteorologia. But, in the Algarve, the dry spell has continued since October. The meteorological institute must now prepare scenarios about what will happen if the weather remains dry. No significant change is foreseen until mid-January.

Next few weeks are decisive

Farmers in Portugal are very concerned about the lack of rain, with the sector’s confederation – Confederação dos Agricultores de Portugal (CAP) – emphasising that the most serious situation relates to the poor condition of pastures for grazing cattle. “It’s becoming very worrying, as pastures have grown very little due to insufficient rain,” declared the Secretary General of CAP, Luís Mira, highlighting that the situation could have serious consequences for farmers.

“The corn has not yet been damaged, but if it doesn’t rain over the next 15 days, it will be affected,” he continued. “The next fortnight could turn out to be decisive. If the situation does not alter, things will get very complicated.”

Mild temperatures also mean fruit trees will start to suffer. “If it doesn’t get colder, trees will start to flower too early, because of the spring-like temperatures.” Luís Mira also hopes the lack of rainfall will not change the level of water reserves, otherwise crops in the summer will also be prejudiced.

Quercus demands

water saving programme

Environmental association, Quercus, is extremely alarmed by the situation and demands for the urgent implementation of the National Programme for the Efficient Use of Water (Programa Nacional para o Uso Eficiente da Água – PNUEA), which was approved three years ago, in order to prevent difficulties associated with a drought that could become a reality this year. “There are measures that can be applied to prevent water shortages, however, nothing has been done,” said Francisco Ferreira of Quercus.

At the end of 2001, the Socialist government announced an investment of 25 million euros for the implementation of PNUEA. More than 80 measures were devised for the urban, agricultural and industrial sectors, including high penalties for those consuming the most water, through the alteration of tariffs and billing periods. In parallel was the intention to raise awareness among consumers about the most environmentally-friendly way of using dishwashers and washing machines.

“In environmental politics, the key word is prevention and the urgent application of measures to prevent the wastage of water,” warned Francisco Ferreira. “There are clear indications that we have not planned ahead and that water reserves are lower than usual,” said the environmentalist.

Lowest rainfall in years

The president of the meteorological institute, Adérito Serrão, said provisional data for the months between September and December point to the fact that Portugal is experiencing the lowest levels of rainfall in 13 years.