For almost two months, rain has been a rare incident in Spain and Portugal. Although the Iberian Peninsula has historically experienced periods of drought, this year brings a new record, with 10% of Spain and 45% of Portugal being under severe or extreme draught. And while the countries’ water supplies are running low, farmers are worried about their crops.
At the Lindoso reservoir in north-western Spain, it is normal for the roofs of the old village Aceredo to start showing from under the water during summer. This year however brings the terrifying reality of the entire village emerging to surface during winter.
It has barely rained in Spain in the past two months, while in the last three months of 2021 the country recorded a mere 35% of the average rainfall it had seen during the same time of the year from 1981 to 2010. In the past 20 years, only 2005 saw a January with almost no rain, according to the national weather agency AEMET, and spokesperson Rubén del Campo said the below average rainfall will probably continue for a few more weeks.
Spanish Agriculture Minister Luis Planas declared that emergency subsidies from the government will be granted if no rain falls in the next two weeks.
The past two, three years have been dry, with the tendency toward less and less rain. The cereal crops for this year have been lost.Andrés Góngora, a 46-year-old tomato farmer in southern Almería
Without heavy rain in the near future, the leading association of farmers and livestock breeders in Spain (COAG) warns that the production of crops such as cereals, olives, nuts and vineyards could drop between 60% and 80%. Furthermore, with water supply from reservoirs being under 40%, COAG says irrigation cannot provide a solution for much longer.
Portugal is facing similar problems, with rainfall over the past five months being less than half of the annual average and no alleviation being forecasted in the next weeks by the national weather agency IPMA.
Livestock production has been particularly affected, because of the poor grazing conditions leading to an extraordinarily high need for fodder, according to a recent report by Portugal’s national statistics institute (INE). At the same time, the production of winter cereals has also been severely affected.
IPMA climatologist Vanda Pires stated that over the last 20-30 years, the droughts in Portugal have become more and more serious, with an increased frequency, higher temperatures and less and less rainfall. “It’s part of the context of climate change”, he added.
The future does not look any better, scientists estimating that by the end of the century, the average annual rainfall will drop by 20% to 40%.
3. EU aid
The situation was discussed in the European Parliament during the plenary session of 17 February.
The drought in Portugal and Spain is of extreme severity. Farmers are desperate and many are thinking of leaving the sector.Álvaro Amaro, Portuguese MEP
EU Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli declared her concern over “the serious drought situation suffered on the Iberian Peninsula” and said the Commission is in contact with Spain and Portugal’s national and regional authorities and “several lines of action” are available through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
The first pillar of CAP offers income support available to farmers and the sectors in difficulty, while the second pillar could offer rural development funding to farmers hit by extreme weather conditions. Commissioner Dalli added that “The Commission has always shown flexibility in relation to the level of advances for these payments”. Furthermore, she reminded that the countries can also apply to the EU’s solidarity fund for help in case of natural disasters.
Climate change will further increase water scarcity and drought hazard, affecting both its frequency and magnitude. This is why it is crucial to accelerate the transition towards sustainable and resilient food systems.Helena Dalli, EU Equality Commissioner
Commissioner Dalli also highlighted the fact that immediate crisis relief is not enough and, in the context of climate change, long-term solutions need to be implemented. She stressed the fact that, in the future, immediate relief action for drought could bring the EU yearly losses of up to € 9 billion.
Regardless, not all the attendees of the plenary session agreed with the Commissioner’s perspective for long-term solutions, Portuguese MEP Álvaro Amaro stressing that “Certainly we need to plan in the long term structurally, but it is also true that this is a critical point in time, and in the short term, the Commission will need to launch financial support measures outside of the CAP”.