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News Spain, Portugal face worst drought in 70 years

Spain is suffering through its driest winter in more than 70 years and bailed-out Portugal next door is in similar straits. Thousands of jobs and many millions in agricultural output are in jeopardy.

Both nations are desperately short of so much: tax revenues, bank credit, jobs, hope for the future. Now, it won’t even rain. 

The landscape in northern Spain is now a palette in shades of ugly. Pale brown fields without crops or pasture stretch off into the distance. A pond for watering sheep has shriveled into a dustbowl. An irrigation canal down the road holds only stagnant water, murky from so much sediment and so little flow.

Luna waves this way and that, distraught over fields he says are doomed to yield zero harvest.

Nationwide, reservoirs are at an average 62 per cent of capacity — not that bad — but in Huesca they are just 20 per cent. That means farmers get only 20 per cent of the water they are normally allotted for irrigation and will have to leave much of their land idle. ASAJA estimates this will cost Huesca province around 1.3 billion euros ($1.7 billion U.S.) in lost revenue from drastically smaller harvests of peaches, cherries, almonds and grapes.

In a good year, 6,000 people work in the Huesca harvest and another 2,000 in canning, packaging and related services. It could be a lean year for them, as it will be for much of Spain, with its nearly 23 per cent jobless rate — the highest in the 17-nation eurozone — and an economy expected to slip into its second recession in three years.

In Galicia, Spain’s lushly green northwestern corner where it usually rains all the time, pastures have no grass this year. Farmers there and elsewhere are being forced to ship in fodder for sheep and cattle at a cost of 2 million euros ($2.6 million) a day, according to ASAJA national spokesman Gregorio Juarez.

In Portugal, Joao Dinis, a spokesman for Portugal’s National Farms Confederation, said the drought has added to hardships caused by the country’s acute financial crisis, which forced it to ask for a 78 billion euros ($102 billion U.S.) bailout last year, making credit scarce.

Farmers are enduring “a very, very difficult” period, with cereal crops badly hit and grazing land in short supply. The weather service classifies almost half of Portugal as being in severe drought.

“It’s the worst situation in living memory,” Dinis said.

Portugal’s Farm Ministry announced at early March seven emergency measures, including a cut in social security contributions, to help farmers and ranchers, that Farm Minister Assuncao Cristas said were equivalent to 40 million euros ($52 million) in aid.

Contact information EMILIO MORENATTI/AP
News type Inbrief
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Source of information
Keyword(s) drought
Geographical coverage Spain, Portugal
News date 23/03/2012
Working language(s) ENGLISH