Spanish toddler death sparks water debate

Spanish toddler death sparks water debate

A Spanish toddler who died after falling into an illegal borehole has sparked a debate about the arid Iberian nation’s water crisis. It is estimated there are over 1 million illegal wells across the hilly country.

Andalusian rescue workers in Totalan, near Malaga, dug for a fortnight to save two-year-old Julen Rosello who fell into one of Spain’s many illegal boreholes.

WWF España demands the closure of illegal boreholes draining water from wetlands in Donaña national park (pictured) in Andalusia, where the NGO said there were around 1,000 illegal wells.

The European Commission said in January that it would be suing Spain in the European Court of Justice over the serious deterioration at Doñana and for its failure to implement the bloc’s water laws: the EU Water Framework Directive and Birds and Habitats Directives.

The holes are known as pozos luneros or “moonshine wells” because they are often dug at night.

In most cases, the farmers themselves drill holes between 20 and 1,200 metres through bedrock to irrigate their crops.

The water is extracted for a fraction of the cost of legal supplies and used to irrigate greenhouses, golf courses and sometimes to supply hotels and housing complexes.

Farmers have been using them for decades for irrigation with the issue becoming more acute after the droughts of last summer.

Illegal wells provide the unregistered extraction of an estimated 3,570 cubic hectometres of water per year, equivalent to the average consumption of 58 million people. It means they more than double the water consumption of the 46 million residents of Spain.

Between 2016 and 2017, rainfall was down 12 per cent. In 2017, 25 per cent of Spanish districts were considered to be in an “emergency water situation”.

Underground reservoirs have reported record lows, holding just 43 per cent of their capacity in early 2017, compared to around 60 per cent during that time of year.

Drought also threatens Spain’s hydropower production, boosting reliance on environmentally ruinous coal, oil and natural gas.

A Greenpeace report said three-quarters of Spain was susceptible to desertification. Tomatoes, lettuce, peaches, pears, olives and one-third of Europe’s strawberries are grown in southern Spain. The strawberry sector is a €400-million a year industry. Thirsty rice is also grown along the Guadalquivir delta.

Water regulation reforms in 1985 required landowners to register their wells but many with existing holes failed to make the declaration, said Nuria Hernandez-Mora, a water policy researcher at the New Water Culture Foundation.


Donaña national park. Spain is increasingly arid. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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