Right now, there is a tanker somewhere in the northern Mediterranean, heading for Barcelona from its home port of Marseilles. Its cargo is due to be connected to a brand new pipeline installed in the dock area of the Catalan capital. Its consignment, the first time this has happened, is fresh water.
Even though in in the very North east corner of Spain, Barcelona and its hinterland is parched. Spain itself is in the grip of its worst drought in a century. Total rainfall in the year to date is down 40% below average. The country’s reservoirs contain barely a third of capacity. In Barcelona, it’s less than a fifth – and the long, hot summer has yet to begin.
“We’re in crisis,” Joan Armengol, professor of ecology at the University of Barcelona is quoted as remarking. “And you can’t leave 5.5 million people in crisis”.
Shipping in much-needed water supplies from France and from wetter regions of Spain is a strictly stop-gap measure. This will provide nearly 100 million cubic feet of water a month, at a huge cost. Within Spain, tensions are rising, especially among farmers in regions from which it is proposed to be diverted to slake the thirst of major cities such as Barcelona.
Territories are at each others’ throats over access to supplies. And this, bear in mind, is in the heart of the prosperous EU. Weren’t all these climate-change consequences supposed to just happen thousands of miles away, in countries we could hardly find on the map, full of poor people who, when push comes to shove, don’t really matter to us?
As the poet WH Auden put it: “Thousands have lived without love, none without water”. Spain is a stable, relatively prosperous democracy, and already concern is being expressed that if this crisis deepens, law and order may begin to crumble.
In another First World country on the other side of the world, water shortages are already biting deeply. Australia may have finally dumped their climate-denying former prime minister (and Bush supporter) John Howard, but the crisis inherited by the new Labour administration is very real.
First off, the government is having to spend billions of dollars ‘buying back’ irrigation water from farmers, to prevent the already calamitous decline in the Murray-Darling river basin from worsening.
Australians are waking up slowly, after years of obstruction and obfuscation from Howard and his allies in the country’s huge coal industry, to the fact that significant parts of their country is now moving into a new climatic condition of permanent drought.
This, for the so-called ‘Lucky Country’ is a shocking awakening to their total vulnerability to ecological disasters, even those of their own making.
Back in the green and misty fields of Ireland, at least we can relax, knowing that if there’s one thing we’ll never run out of, it’s rainwater. Before filling that paddling pool or turning on that sprinkler, think again.
A recently published report, ‘Changing Shades of Green‘ warns that Ireland in the coming decades faces very real and serious water shortages and imbalances. In the past, our rainfall has been well spread over the full year, and generally fairly gentle. Climate-driven weather patterns heading our way will lead to serious rainfall reductions in summer, with seasonal droughts along the Eastern seaboard commonplace.
On the flip side, winter rainfall may in fact increase, both in volume and intensity, leading to flooding and erosion risks. Even that Irish icon, the potato, may no longer be able to be grown along the East cost due to water shortages.
What is increasingly plain is that the pain of no rain (or too much rain, for that matter) will certainly radiate far north of Spain.