Long periods of drought are going to be more and more normal. It’s time to get used to them

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Now it has hit the headlines, but we have been in a generalized drought situation since 2014. Since that year, each season it has rained less than the historical average (1971-2000); each season has added its grain of sand to build a global, constant and increasingly widespread deficit. But the worst is not that. And it is not because, although unlikely, random weather can surprise us with a spring like 2018 (with the rainiest March since 1965) that will help us save our furniture. The “urgency” will disappear, yes; but the drought will still be there.

The biggest drought since we have records?. If we are rigorous, we will have to admit that the drought that lasted between 1991 and 1995 was worse than the current one. Especially when it comes to repercussions. Since then, our planning capacity and our water management tools have improved a lot. The result is that, despite the fact that since October 1, 2021 (the date on which the hydrological year begins) only 25% of normal has fallen in some areas, we are managing to minimize damage.

“Child’s Play”. Until now, some countries such as Spain, Mexico, South Africa or Chile have suffered some water stress and have been able to check in their own flesh the tensions that water scarcity can create. But according to Joshua Busbyfrom the University of Texas and the Council of Foreign Relations, “I think this will all be child’s play compared to what is to come.” The reason is more than obvious: “There is less and less water in the world,” explains Busby. At least in the sense that the demand for water has not stopped increasing, driven by demographic and economic growth, but the resources remain stable. Or they are reduced by climate change.

The data is worrying. If we analyze data from the World Resources Institute, we can verify that areas like the United States or the Middle East will have gigantic problems. But as he explained to Xataka Robert Glennonprofessor at the University of Arizona Spain, Mexico and several areas of the rest of Latin America they won’t be left behind. The WRI helps us combine various dynamics and trends to weigh the most plausible scenarios in 2030 and the forecasts are dire: drought is on its way to becoming the new normal.

20% of Spain is already desertified and it seems only the beginning

New water normality? In 2015, a team from the University of Zaragoza conducted really interesting study. Gathering dozens of sources of information (and thousands of tree rings), they managed to x-ray all the droughts since 1694. Among their conclusions, it appeared that “the Mediterranean basin has been witnessing an increase in water problems for at least five decades.” If it weren’t for that particularly rainy March, the 2017 drought would have been the most savage in 320 years.

A month of rains does not solve the problem. If at a global level, each year 24 billion tons of fertile soil are lost (that is, in the last 20 the equivalent of all the agricultural land in the US has been lost); At a local level, a fifth of the Spanish territory is already desertified and 1% is degrading very quickly.

This is especially serious because desertification is not only one of the most visible consequences of climate change, but also one of the most costly in economic, social and environmental terms. The reason? Which is very difficult to fight. Despite the global urgency we are going through, our approaches to remedy it are still very little developed.

And besides, we’re running late. Although the international convention on desertification entered into force in 1996, Spain is many years behind in its application. And, as if that were not enough, by including the energy variable in the water equation, the problems have only worsened. Bearing in mind that this is perhaps the biggest problem that agriculture and livestock (two strategic sectors) are going to face in the coming decades, it is difficult to explain.

Are there solutions? In a scenario with stable supply and rising demand, the solutions are complex. Glennon, for his part, proposed that it was necessary to start “forcing better water management” and even create solid markets that once and for all address issues such as water pricing, the most efficient allocation of these resources or international trade. of fresh water The issue is controversial because the privatization of water resources is a very sensitive issue in many areas of the world that see how some countries can end up draining the resources of others, further aggravating the situation.

Image | Javier Diaz Barrera

Now it has hit the headlines, but we have been in a generalized drought situation since 2014. Since that year,…

Now it has hit the headlines, but we have been in a generalized drought situation since 2014. Since that year,…

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