Spanish Christian geographer Miguel Wickham analyses the severe drought that is hitting Southern Europe.
The Joint Research Centre from the European Commission published the Drought in Europe March 2023, which states that “due to an exceptionally dry and warm winter, soil moisture and river flow are already showing significant anomalies, especially in France, Spain and northern Italy”.
“Close monitoring and proper water use plans are required to deal with a season that currently has a high risk of being critical for water resources”, adds the report.
European Commission spokesperson Miriam Garcia Ferrer warned that “severe drought in Southern Europe is particularly worrying, not only for the farmers there but also because this can push up already very high consumer prices if the EU production is significantly lower".
Spain is the most affected country, with over 36% of the Spanish geography in an emergency situation and 19.6% in a drought alert or exceptional situation, according to the Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge.
Since April, thousands of people are relying on truck deliveries for drinking water, while regions like Catalonia have imposed water restrictions.
France experienced its driest winter since 1959, with drought crisis alerts already activated in four departmental prefects, restricting non-priority water withdrawals, including for agriculture, according to government website Propluvia.
Some 90% of the Portugal mainland is suffering from drought, with severe drought affecting one-fifth of the country, nearly five times the area reported a year earlier.
After two years of water scarcity, some parts of Italy entered May with a 70% deficit in snow water reserves and a 40% deficit of soil moisture, Luca Brocca, a Director of Research at Italy's National Research Council told news agency Reuters.
Spanish news website Protestante Digital talked to geographer and secondary school teacher Michael Wickham about the causes and consequences of the drought.
Question: The drought received much media coverage. Are we in an unprecedented situation?
Answer: We have had several years of reduced rainfall and more frequent periods of drought in Spain, and in the last year there has been very little rain in autumn and winter.
In April, which is normally rainy, the Spanish saying 'in April, a thousand rains' has not been true. Many areas have not received a single drop of rain.
Temperatures are well above average for these spring months, and this winter has been mild, with temperatures well above normal, and very little snow in the mountains.
The impact is especially evident in the southern and eastern basins of Spain, with Catalonia, which has a large domestic, agricultural and industrial demand, having a huge deficit.
Water there comes mostly from the Pyrenees, and with hardly any snow this winter, and very little rain, rivers are very low and reservoirs are in a critical state. The southern basins and their reservoirs also have a large deficit of, in some cases, more than 30%.
Q: To what extent can we relate the current drought to the process of climate change?
A: Droughts in the Mediterranean are frequent and periodic, (in addition to periodic global phenomena such as 'El Niño'), but for over 30 years climatologists, with increasingly better computer climate models, have warned that the current global warming is producing alterations in the climate and extreme atmospheric phenomena, such as droughts, 'Danas' (or cold drops), intense storms on the Mediterranean coast, tornadoes, etc.
The warmer the earth gets, the more energy there will be and the more extreme weather events and seasonal changes will occur.
The future is expected to be hotter, with more frequent heat waves, more droughts, more forest fires, (which combine other important causes such as the abandonment of the countryside), and more torrential rains unpredictable in place, quantity and time.
This impacts on all areas of life, including individual health.
Q: What can churches and Christians bring to the debate and what can they do?
A: In short, I think the following:
- Show, through the sustainable use of water in communities and families, that water is a gift from God and should be used reasonably. If milk came out of the tap, would we treat it the same way?
- Influence politicians to be aware of this.
- Inform the congregation and society about the importance of water and in countries where it is scarce.
Q: How can we regulate our water consumption?
A: What can I do? As with the ecological problem in general, it seems that on an individual level what one can do does not affect anything.
But we are called to be responsible as individuals and as God's people (Genesis 1:28 and 2:15), primarily because creation is God's and he loves it, and he asks us to be good stewards, reflecting his character of mercy, justice and love.
Turn off the tap properly after use; keep the tap turned off while brushing your teeth or lathering up in the shower; use the washing machine with a full load of clothes; don't leave hoses running in the garden; keep swimming pool water clean throughout the year, to avoid filling it up in summer.
We could add more 'unpopular' but growing things like reusing shower water for the toilet. How do we use water in our church?
And the Bible gives us the key to the real cause of all imbalance, all harm. Eden was a place for man to meet his creator; but man turned his back on it. It is interesting how the tabernacle, a meeting place with God in the desert, was decorated with images that reminded the people of Israel of Eden.
Christian communities should also seek to be attractive places of encounter for God's people with the society around them, both in their physical appearance and in their love and service.
The green church or 'EcoChurch' movement reflects this quest to portray the character of the Creator in the whole life of the community.
Can I ask myself if my home and my community, my church, is a place of encounter, attractive, which reflects the character of the Creator, his creativity, his peace, his goodness, his mercy, and his love?
When man's relationship, both individually and collectively, with the Creator is broken, the result affects all of creation, and we see it in the water cycle.
The people of Israel were warned that rain comes from God and disobedience would have effects on nature, such as the provision of rain, essential to their livelihood (two of many texts: Deuteronomy 28:12 and 23).
I wonder if the changes in climate, and the current droughts could also be a result of man's living with his back turned to God.
The Bible presents Jesus as the one who restores all things broken, including the relationships between men and the relationship with nature, and damaged nature itself, as we see in his encounter with the Samaritan woman in John 4:1-42. It is God who comes to man and offers him, as he did to her, water that will never be scarce.
Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:13).