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News Climate change threatens Cyprus with drought

A recent study suggests that the Mediterranean island of Cyprus runs the risk of becoming more like a desert by the end of this century from the effects of climate change. The World’s Aaron Schachter has details.

Since the late 1980s, rainfall has dropped by 15 percent.  Last year was the fourth straight drought year, with half the average rainfall.  During recent summers, Cypriots have sometimes found themselves without water for up to four or five days a week.  They’ve had to import hundreds of millions of gallons from Greece and Turkey. And experts fear it’s only going to get worse. Nicolas Jarraud is a scientist with the United Nations based in Cyprus.

One recent study predicted that by the end of the century, the once relatively lush island could become a Saudi-Arabian-like desert.  But climate change is only exacerbating a problem that Cypriots helped create. Islanders have been profligate in their use of water.  Kyriakos Kyrou works for the Water Development Department in Nicosia. He says officials are just starting to take the problem seriously.

Despite the development binge, the number one offender remains agriculture.  Farms suck up three-quarters of Cyprus’s water, often for thirsty crops like citrus and potatoes that are sold outside the country.  The UN’s Nicolas Jarraud says Cyprus’s farmers aren’t greedy or callous.  They’re just stuck in old ways.

The cheapest, and maybe the best way, is now desalination

There are three desalination projects now in Cyprus and more being planned.  Dozens of similar plants exist all over the Mediterranean and Middle East as water shortages continue to grow.  But the plants are expensive, they use a lot of energy, and some worry about the impact of the tons of salt dumped from the plants back into the sea.   Meanwhile, the broader solution to the region’s water woes requires money and political will.  Both are lacking.  The small island has been divided into a Turkish north and a Greek south since a conflict in 1974.  Turkish and Greek scientists have worked together on water solutions in recent years, but the politicians have yet to reach agreement.

And while the Greek Green Party’s George Perdikes says ordinary Cypriots understand there is a problem, they don’t seem to feel much sense of urgency.

Aaron Schachter, Nicosia, Cyprus.


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News type Inbrief
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Keyword(s) Climate change, drought
Geographical coverage Cyprus
News date 30/10/2009
Working language(s) ENGLISH