Drought Algarve_José Coelho
@José Coelho/LUSA

Portugal will face water shortage crisis, primarily affecting Algarve and Alentejo

According to Algarve University researcher Nuno Loureiro, if this hydrological year is not “generous”, next year, the water crisis “will break out in full force”.

The south of Portugal is being increasingly affected by drought, and if it doesn’t rain this year, the country will struggle with a “water crisis”, especially in the Algarve and the Alentejo, said researcher Nuno Loureiro.

“The health crisis, which makes daily headline news, is dramatic and is a crisis of lack of planning. We have the housing crisis, which is now a little less talked about because we are busy with what is happening in Palestine and the Gaza Strip, and we will have a water crisis in the very short term”, said the researcher from the University of Algarve (UAlg).

Nuno Loureiro warned that if this hydrological year is not “generous”, next year, the water crisis “will break out in full force”.

“The reserves we have no longer guarantee a year [of consumption], or guarantee them with many limitations. And faced with this situation, there are no easy answers, no easy solutions, but there are solutions that have to be adopted and go through planning and serious supervision”, he argued.

The same source acknowledged that domestic consumption is among the areas where action must be taken to make water consumption more sustainable, and this “is managed by price, not managed with “pink” advertising campaigns”.

The researcher, who studied water resources, said that management also involves “things that are completely unthinkable in today’s Algarve”, such as, for example, the “spread of private swimming pools”, which he classified as “absurd” in a scenario of water scarcity.

“Everyone has a swimming pool. A swimming pool is a considerable volume of water (…) It is private water consumption, it is a private waste of water, which brings absolutely no compensation”, he argued, stressing that it can be said that “agriculture spends a lot or spends little, but it produces food, it produces jobs”.

Nuno Loureiro called for greater planning and supervision by using tools such as satellite images, which show an “increase in irrigated areas in the Algarve over time”.

“If you look at images from the 1980s, you can see how small the Silves citrus fruit patch was. You can see how the entire area to the north and south of the [EN] 125 between Tavira and Vila Real de Santo António is modest. In recent years, if we look for images from 2018, 2020, 2022, we see that it grows increasingly and is watered more and more”, he added.

This tool allows “careful monitoring of the use of water” and is not being used by technical and political decision-makers appropriately, but “it has to start to be”, he argued.

“This satellite image allows, using the different image bands, to perfectly characterize the vegetation’s water status”, added the researcher. It can show, for example, if vegetation “very satisfied with water is being irrigated”, and this information can be crossed with “the possible sources of water, including illegal boreholes” or “the dams that cannot water, but they continue to do so, or crops that continue to have water”.

Nuno Loureiro considered that these tools “have to start being used because the issue is very serious” and “even if it rains a little more this winter, and eases the pain a little, it is not a remedy” for the problem that the region is facing.