Portugal’s drought: minister delivers warning shot to golf courses

Government will “have no limitations whatsoever” over restricting water supplies

Environment minister Duarte Cordeiro has been talking tough on Portugal’s drought – leaving golf courses and other businesses ‘heavy on water usage’ in no doubt over their responsibilities.

Everyone in Portugal – whether everyday citizens, or business investors – “will have to get used to living with less water”, he warned in interview with Lusa.

Portugal is experiencing one of the worst droughts on record – and this means the government is ready to apply “whatever restrictions are necessary”.

“It’s not worth the while of anyone who fosters certain types of investments or infrastructures not to take into account that water is a scarce resource,” he said, stressing that those who invest without taking into account water scarcity may face consequences.

“It is important to explain that we will have to get used to living with less water – everyone, agro-industrial activities also, economic sectors, and we must all look at what are the opportunities we have,” he added.

On the specific issue of golf courses, the minister called on investors to look at the territory and safeguard themselves: “Economic sectors that need water should invest in what allows them to have water, which is capturing water from the sea, reusable water, efficiency of use. They have to do it; it’s not a matter of choice.

Cordeiro also spoke to Lusa about the United Nations Oceans Conference, which officially began this morning in Lisbon, and runs until Friday. As part of the event – the largest ever on the subject, with the theme ‘Save the Oceans, Protect the Future‘ – a high-level symposium on water is taking place today, organised by Portugal’s government and opened by Cordeiro himself.

The symposium, the minister told Lusa, is “one of the most important side events associated with the Oceans Conference” and aims to “seek to build links between … the importance of safeguarding freshwater” and the preservation of oceans and the fight against climate change.

Portugal, he claimed, has done a lot of work in this area, as it has gone from treating 15% of wastewater in 1990 to 99% now.

“This has an immediate impact at the level, for example, of Blue Flag beaches,” he said, noting that this year there are over 400 in Portugal.

Treated water, he noted, ends up in the sea, which is then reflected in the quality of coastal waters and marine biodiversity.

The symposium, the opening session of which includes speeches by four ministers and the UN under-secretary-general for the economy and social issues, Liu Zheenmin, will also serve to debate issues such as climate change and adaptation to water shortages and new sources of catchment.

“The symposium is the link between fresh and salt water,” stressed Cordeiro, saying the aim was to underscore the importance that “the treatment and preservation of freshwater has for the quality of the oceans.”

When talking about reducing ocean pollution and the need to preserve biodiversity, it is important to grasp the importance of water quality, he said. This relationship with water is also linked to climate change, the rise in sea level, the impact on the coastline, extreme weather events, and the ability to adapt to situations of less water and drought management – all also topics of the high-level meeting.

Today’s sessions will see discussion of the UN Sustainable Development Goals relating to water, but also the possibilities of cooperation between states. They will be attended by a dozen or so ministers and officials from international organisations, including the European commissioner for the environment, Virginijus Sinkevičius.

The conference precedes the UN Water Conference in New York in March next year, and aims to contribute to the preparatory process for that conference, said Cordeiro.

Regarding the conference, the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, has recalled that 40% of the world population is currently affected by a lack of water, 80% of wastewater is discharged untreated into the environment, and more than 90% of disasters are water-related.

In his interview with Lusa, Duarte Cordeiro reiterated that 34% of mainland Portugal is in severe drought right now, and 66% in extreme drought. Public awareness campaigns begin next month, and will be continuous.

“All this work has to have a dimension of continuity: we can not say that we have to prepare for less water and not have constant awareness work,” he said.

Source: LUSA