"Desertification in itself isn't caused by climate change, it's caused by the misuse of land and water. Global warming only intensifies it," stated Ruben Vives, one of the spokesmen for the Spanish group of Ecologists in Action. The use of water as a resource is one of the issues of concern for the organization. The solution, according to Ecologists in Action, is to adapt the crops to the available water. The only option to do so, they stress, is to reduce the area cultivated in the region. "It isn't an easy measure, but it is a necessary one," they acknowledge.
The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) depicts a bleak future climate scenario and the Mediterranean producing regions will have to face some of the harshest effects of climate change in Europe in the coming years. In addition, the increase in temperature and evapotranspiration, together with the decrease in rainfall and extreme phenomena, can trigger desertification processes in arid areas such as the region of Murcia.
The expansion of irrigated cultivation has not stopped growing for four decades and it has transformed the region's soil, Ruben Vives said. "Irrigation means that all the available resources, and even those that we do not have, go to the crops," Vives stated. According to data provided by Ecologists in Action, the region consumes more than twice the water it produces naturally. "And more than 90% of it is used to irrigate crops. This is unsustainable," he stated.
"In recent decades we have seen springs drying up, the water from the wells that supply irrigation communities comes from deeper below and has higher salinity." Using salty water increases the salinity of the soil and degrades the land. Thus, we take another step towards desertification."
Juan Andres Garcia Valero, a deputy spokesperson for the Aemet in Murcia, said that if measures are not taken soon, by 2050 the average temperature in the region will have increased by 2 to 4 degrees. According to IPCC forecasts, the rainfall in the community will have decreased by 20 to 40% by then, Garcia added. In addition, there will be an increase in dry periods, so there will be less availability of water in the soil.
"The southeast is going to be one of the areas most affected by climate change. The temperature will increase and there will be less rainfall, which will generate greater water stress and irrigators will need to extract more water. However, we have already exceeded the capacity for renewal of the water resources we have," Vives alerted.