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Urgent warning for tourists as beloved European seaside towns in 'state of emergency'

A drought in Spain believed to be the worst in 200 years is pitting farmers against the tourist industry as growers and hospitality businesses battle to satisfy customers and consumers.

Officials in Catalonia, whose main city is Barcelona, declared a drought emergency in February as the worsening impacts of climate change are felt across the Mediterranean.

Tourists in Barcelona this Easter holiday were met with large signs in English reading: “Drought alert. During your stay, save water”, according to Reuters news agency.

Reservoirs serving six million people were at less than 16 percent of their capacity, a historic low that sparked alarm among locals.

The regional government has already announced restrictions across sectors of the economy, with the amount of water the agricultural sector can use for irrigating crops cut by up to 80 percent.

Water management expert, David Saurí, a geographer at the Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona, told Euronews the situation for farmers has been “critical” for some time.

He said the situation is a catastrophe as farmers have been unable to irrigate their crops in the region, where agriculture makes up three percent of the economy.

Tensions between the agriculture and tourism industries has been mounting amid curbs on water use in the region, which is popular with tourists.

Mr Saurí told the same publication the average tourist in Barcelona alone is estimated to consume at least 60 percent more water compared to a typical resident. He explained tourists staying at campsites use less than those staying at high end hotels.

The expert added: “Tourism is not what we would call the ‘bad guy’ of the movie… but there are lots of ‘bad guys’ and lots of ‘good guys.’ Not all tourism is the same.”

Hotels and campsites are banned from filling swimming pools with freshwater, with work underway to establish a desalination plant at Lloret de Mar to remove salt from sea water before filling pools with the results.

Mr Saurí warned desalination could cause friction between the tourism industry and sectors, such as agriculture, which are less able to fund such projects.

Enric Dotras, head of Lloret de Mar’s hospitality association, said water from such a plant would help keep business afloat and secure jobs.

The environmental impact of desalination has also been raised by Greenpeace. A recent Accenture report cited by Euronews is reported to note that such plants use up to 23 times more energy than conventional water sources.

Brine disposed off by the process also poses a substantial risk to marine life. Nevertheless, the Spanish government has said it will invest 500 million euros of EU funding in desalination plants.

Measures such as plugging holes in the region’s water systems have also been proposed. According to local water management agency, Agència Catalana de l’Aigua, Catalonia lost a quarter of its water due to leaks in 2022.

Organic farmer Pol Dunyó Ruhí said water restrictions are “absurd” and “really unequal”. He said the limits should take more account of ecology, claiming farmers who grow corn, which requires more water use, should be treated differently to those using water more prudently.


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