Judy Sharp reflects on life and her world – as she sees it.
THERE ARE two views on publicity and exposure. One says “no news is good news” and the other says “any publicity is good publicity, as long as they spell the name right”.
The Algarve does not normally rate many column inches in national Portuguese papers, so I was surprised to find a number of articles about the region in a single edition of Correio da Manhã recently. Sadly, the first features were all about robberies. There was a gang who started in Messines and moved to São Brás targeting shops with easy-to-lift items such as mobile phones, cameras, TVs and so on; and another gang who aimed for the Western Union currency exchange offices in Tavira and Vilamoura. Still in Vilamoura, a thief was caught red-handed robbing a house. He is also suspected of various other robberies in and around Vale do Lobo.
Everyone who lives here now has stories to tell of robberies on them or their friends. In one case I heard of recently, the thieves, who clearly knew the routine of the family they had targeted, watched the mother leave with the children, then drew up in a van and – apparently using a key – got into the house and started loading furniture! Only the presence of mind of a neighbour prevented a total house clearance. We have to understand that, sadly, times are changing here in the Algarve and vigilance has to be the order of the day.
Then, there was a piece about the new hospital which was meant to be an integral part of the Parque das Cidades site along with the White Elephant Football Stadium. The new Minister of Health, Luís Filipe Pereira, was in the Algarve recently doing his equivalent of kissing babies ahead of the forthcoming election – signing agreements, opening new health facilities and so on. He outraged authorities in the Algarve when he said that a new general hospital for the region was no longer a priority.
I remember that, when I saw the original plans for the site at Parque das Cidades, much was made of the fact that the new hospital had been promised by Durão Barroso (remember him?) and was on the approved list of 10 hospitals to be built. New Prime Minister, new priorities – and they clearly don’t include the Algarve.
We all know how under-resourced the regional hospitals are. How the staff perform the miracles they do in emergency situations, I really don’t know. To be so flippant about a new hospital for an area that, in the summer, has to cope not only with the growing number of residents but hundreds of thousands of visitors is as callous as it is stupid. But then it was this government that reneged on the promise of Durão Barroso on the subject of tolls on the new motorway as well. No wonder the country is facing elections!
The other piece which caught my eye did not actually refer to the Algarve but to its close neighbour, the Alentejo, and the effects that the drought is having there. While tourists who have escaped from the cold, wet weather further north love it, the fact is that we need rain and we need it now!
In the little villages around Mértola, water is being delivered by tankers because the usual supplies have dried up, and sheep and cattle are dying in the fields from thirst and starvation. This year’s crops are already in doubt because the ground is too hard to work on. Official warnings have already been given to the Algarve about water rationing but – just like the increasing number of robberies – it isn’t the sort of thing that anyone involved in tourism wants to talk about. Well, sorry, but it has to be talked about and a solution has to be found.
More and more apartments and villas are being built – that in itself uses water. Then people move into the properties and use water in their daily lives. Green zones have to be irrigated to keep them looking beautiful, swimming pools have to be topped up when the water evaporates. Where is all this water coming from? The magical water table under the Algarve, which is so riddled with boreholes now that it is more like a Swiss cheese than a solid landmass. What feeds that water table? Rain – lots of it!
I am surprised that in a country that has such a long coastline, there are no de-salination plants (if there are, I have not heard about them and I sit corrected). I came across the concept on Gibraltar, which has no fresh water. They have their famous water catchments, which feed rainwater into a system of reservoirs inside the Rock, and a modern de-salination plant to boost supplies. They run on the two-water system – brackish for flushing toilets, irrigating gardens, and so on, and potable for drinking and cooking. As water is such a valuable resource, is it not time to start taking better care of it?
But, to end on a positive note, you must have heard that the viewers of A Place in the Sun voted the Algarve their number one destination to move to because of the climate, security and ease of access. Given the dreadful year that everyone in tourism and real estate had last year, let’s hope that the Regional Tourist Board blasts this message far and wide, and that it gives a much-needed boost to business this year!