Historic drought sees Spaniards pray for rain

Drought is so severe in parts of Spain that thousands of people are invoking the heavens desperate for rain.

Historic drought sees Spaniards pray for rain
Penitents bear a float with a statue of Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno, also known as the "Abuelo de Jaen" during a procession through the streets of the city to make the rain fall in Jaén, on May 1, 2023. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

On Monday, parishioners in the southern city of Jaen held a procession carrying aloft a statute of Christ called “El Abuelo” to pray for rain for the first time since 1949.

Thousands attended the procession as experts say parts of Spain are the driest in a thousand years, with drought depleting reservoirs to half their normal capacity, figures show.

“We are in the midst of a persistent drought and the aim of this procession is to invoke the Lord to help us and save us,” Ricardo Cobos, a member of the “El Abuelo” brotherhood, told AFP.

READ ALSO: How Catholic are people in Spain nowadays?

On April 25, Spain asked the European Union for emergency funds to help the country’s farmers grapple with a severe drought threatening crops.

Two days later, mainland Spain recorded its hottest temperature ever for April, hitting 38.8 degrees Celsius (101.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in Cordoba, preliminary data showed.

Water reservoirs are at half their capacity nationally and the COAG farmers’ union says 60 percent of farmland is “suffocating” from lack of rainfall.

Spain is the world’s biggest exporter of olive oil and a key source of Europe’s fruit and vegetables.

People attend the Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno procession through the streets of Jaén. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

“We are very dependent on olive trees and the cultivation of oil, therefore when the land stops receiving water it is an economic catastrophe,” said Cobos.

Last year, Spain experienced its hottest year since records began, with UN figures suggesting nearly 75 percent of its land is susceptible to desertification due to climate change.

Back in Jaén, eyes are on the sky. “I have come to see the Lord and I have great faith that he will give us water”, said Antonia Contreras, who came to follow the procession from a neighbouring town.

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The parts of Málaga most affected by rising sea levels

Spanish climate experts have warned of a significant rise in sea level in several municipalities within the province of Málaga, including the Vélez-Málaga and Guadalmar areas.

The parts of Málaga most affected by rising sea levels

According to a recent report in the Official State Bulletin (BOE), sea level rises will be expected across the Andalusian province, but the areas around Vélez-Málaga and Guadalmar will be subject to severe increases by 2070. 

This comes after an April report by NASA found that sea levels have risen by five centimetres in Málaga province in the last three years and will rise by 50 centimetres by 2090.

The local government has already initiated several actions to try and alleviate the situation in Málaga and mitigate intense flooding.

According to expert predictions and government studies carried out between 1957 and 2022, coastal erosion has already begun and in the future, the coastline will begin where urbanisations, beach bars and restaurants currently stand.

This includes the hotel Parador del Campo de Golf de Málaga, as well as a wastewater pumping station.

Projected sea level increase in Málaga province in the next decades. Graph: NASA

The areas previously declared as flood-prone have also been updated and modified according to new data available.

READ ALSO: The Spanish cities that will be most affected by rising sea levels

The municipality of Vélez-Málaga, capital of the Axarquía region of quaint white villages, will be one of the worst-affected places, particularly around Torre del Mar and Caleta de Vélez.

Experts say that this problem has been going on for decades and will only get worse. Since 1957, the municipality has lost a total of 222,107 square metres of sand, due to the increase in storms derived from climate change.

From 2020, with a peak in 2022, the area also experienced an extreme drought, meaning that contributions of river sediments on the beaches are almost non-existent. If this trend continues, and if conditions do not change, it’s estimated that in 10 and 20 years, the stretch of coast on the left bank of the Vélez River will experience the greatest regression, with a maximum of 40 metres at 10 years and 70 metres at 20 years.

READ ALSO: Why are Barcelona’s beaches disappearing?

In Guadalmar, the coastline is expected to advance between 80 and 226 metres, due to the increase in sea level by 31 centimetres, according to a study carried out by Tragsatec, a public engineering group. As a consequence, researchers say that the waves are changing and more storms are eroding the beaches.

A significant portion of this coastline has already been lost to the sea this century, but since 2016 the regression of the coast has been even greater. In total, 223,495 square metres of beach have been lost in almost 70 years.

It is estimated that, if conditions do not change, in 10 to 20 years, the stretch of coast between San Julián beach and the golf course will see the greatest regression.

READ ALSO – MAP: The parts of Spain that are most and least affected by global warming

In order to deal with this issue, the Coastal Regulation has declared that no new title of occupation in the maritime-terrestrial public domain may be granted on land deemed to be at serious risk.

Existing constructions will be maintained as long as the sea does not reach them or there is a risk that it will. On land declared to be in a situation of serious regression, the government may carry out protection, conservation or restoration. For this, it may impose a special tax on people who benefit from these works.