26th May 2024
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Water resources and farming become key issues in Spain’s regional elections

Spain’s water resources and the farming sector have become key issues in the forthcoming local and regional elections that take place on 28 May, and with a general election to be held before the end of the year.

Concern over the future of the southern Doñana National Park, which is threatened by over farming, has specifically made water management a key issue ahead of the elections in the Andalusia region.

The Spanish branch of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has also stepped further into the debate, stating that the Doñana Park, home to one of Europe’s largest wetlands, is in a ‘critical state’.

‘For the past two years, it has barely rained. But farmers continue to draw enormous quantities of water from the groundwater table,’ said Felipe Fuentelsaz of WWF Spain.

With its mix of dunes, forests and lagoons, the park once hosted huge colonies of migrating birds. Now it is mostly dry, and storks and flamingos are a rare sight.

A recent study by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) found 59% of the park’s largest lagoons have dried up. And the situation could get worse.

The right-wing People’s Party (PP) which governs the region, introduced a draft law backed by the far-right party Vox that would legalise illegal berry farms near the park.

The WWF met this week with a European Commission body to report that the ‘anti-Doñana law’ could grant amnesty to up to 1,900 hectares of illegal crops in Doñana, more than double the number declared by the PP and VOX.

‘We have reminded the EC that none of these hectares have any legal right to land or water,’ the WWF said, ‘so they should be reverted to their previous status and their owners sanctioned.’

Defenders of the proposal argue it will help farmers who missed out during a previous regularisation of farms in the area in 2014 under socialist (PSOE) government.

Both socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and the national leader of the PP, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, have visited Doñana in recent weeks.

‘Donana will not be touched,’ said Sánchez last month, accusing the right of ‘climate denial’. ALSO READ: Spanish government vows to block farming near threatened wetlands.

Feijóo responded by saying Doñana ‘does not belong to Sánchez’. He accuses the prime minister of fuelling a controversy over the plan to distract attention from his government’s failure to adequately manage water resources.

If the right wins the next general election, Feijóo has said: ‘We will get water to places that don’t have any.’

The debate has thrown the spotlight on how drought-prone Spain uses its fresh water. The country is the European Union’s biggest producer of fruit and vegetables and 80% of its fresh water is used by farmers.

Sánchez’s government announced last week it planned to spend €1.4 billion to build new infrastructure such as desalination plants to boost freshwater supplies. ALSO READ: Spain announces exceptional drought measures worth over €2 billion.

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