(FILE) View of the Viñuela reservoir in Vélez-Málaga, which has less than 10% water reserves as a result of the lack of rainfall in recent months, on 28 April 2023. EFE / Jorge Zapata

Spanish regions demand EU support to tackle drought crisis

Brussels, May 25 (EFE).- Spanish regional authorities on Thursday called for a “European response” to the prolonged drought that is severely affecting the country’s agricultural sector.

Rainfall has dropped by 26% between October 2022 and early May 2023, according to the State Meteorological Agency (AEMET), compared to the same period of the previous season.

The declining rainfall has meant that 80% of the Spanish countryside is affected by drought, according to Spain’s Coordinator for Farming Associations (COAG).

(FILE) State of the Arguis reservoir, 1 May 2023, 20 kilometers from the city of Huesca, which is at 6% of its volume. EFE/ Javier Blasco

During a debate at the European Commission’s Committee of the Regions (CoR) in Brussels, the governments of Catalonia, Extremadura and Murcia urged the EU to urgently respond to the crisis, including by mobilizing crisis funds.

The drought could reduce olive oil production by half and grains by 25 %, the CoR noted.

Extremadura director-general of External Action, Rosa Balas, said emergency measures approved by the Spanish and Extremadura governments were insufficient to deal with the drought, which requires a “European response” that “must be accompanied by European support” in the form of increased funds for struggling farmers.

Murcia regional authorities also urged the EC to “react as soon as possible” and mobilize “the necessary resources” from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) crisis reserve, with Adrian Zittelli, Murcia’s director general for the EU, saying the water shortage “cannot be addressed with the funds currently available.”

Hundreds of farmers from Lleida affected by the water restrictions protest in Barcelona, Spain, 24 May 2023, to call attention to the situation of the Catalan agricultural sector which is struggling amid extreme drought. The banner reads, in Catalan, “We save what we eat. Without farming, livestock and agro-industry there is no country.” EFE/Toni Albir

“We need more support measures to ensure the sustainability of agriculture, its economic viability and, in some cases, even its survival,” Zittelli said.

He called for the agricultural sector – which is key to driving Murcia’s economy – to be better protected as it can help “slow down the advance of desertification in Europe”.

He also championed spreading the use of sustainable practices to maximize the use of water in crops, such as the purification and reuse of wastewater and implementing precision irrigation.

The Catalan Minister for External Action, Meritxell Serret, said “European policies” were required to “comprehensively address” issues such as drought that stem from the climate crisis, whose effects “know no borders.” EFE