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

With more than 500 temperature records beaten this summer it's undeniably getting hotter across much of Spain. However, some cities and areas of the country are disproportionately affected by global warming, while others aren't.

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

Global warming is getting harder and harder to dispute, there’s no denying that temperatures are rising, particularly after living through the last couple of record-breaking years we’ve seen in Spain.

In 2022, Spain experienced its hottest year on record so far, including the hottest spring and the hottest month of October.

This year, 2023 continues to be a record-breaking year with the hottest April on record and at least five summer heatwaves where the mercury got up to the low 40s in several parts of the country.

READ ALSO: Spain sees staggering 552 temperature records broken this summer

Add this to the fact that severe drought has been affecting much of the country for the past year and the situation is not looking good. 

According to the State Meteorological Agency (AEMET) data, the most significant temperature increase has occurred in the last 60 years. Since the pre-industrial period, the average temperature in Spain has increased by around 1.7C and since the 60s by 0.3C each decade.

READ ALSO: Is it worth living in Spain if the summers are so unbearably hot?

New data from the Sustainability Observatory Seventy has revealed that 70 percent of the Spanish population live in areas where the temperatures have risen more than 1.5C in the last 60 years.

The evolution of temperatures in Spain between 1961 and 2018. Source: Observatorio de Sostenibilidad

Where have temperatures risen the most?

One of the most important points to remember is that not everywhere in Spain is warming at the same rate.

One of the regions that has been the most affected is the Eastern Pyrenees. Of the nine municipalities that have already registered a temperature rise of more than 3C, six are in this area. These are Alp, Das, Fontanals de Cerdanya, Ríu de Cerdanya, Castellar de n’Hug and Llivia.

The province of Girona, in northern Catalonia, has registered the greatest amount of warming at 3.26C.

In total, more than 300,000 people, equivalent to 1 percent of the population and 3 percent of Spanish municipalities, have already experienced warming at this level.

Of the total number of municipalities, half of them have already seen a warming of more than 1.5C, which means that 70 percent of the Spanish population lives in these areas that have warmed beyond this number.

This leaves only 30 percent of inhabitants (equivalent to 49 percent of municipalities) in Spain living below that increase.

The map shows that the areas that have experienced the greatest increase in temperatures are located mainly in elevated areas of the interior plateaus and in the low coastal mountain areas, as well as on the Cantabrian coast and in Galicia.

Madrid, areas of Seville and Cádiz, parts of Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, and the Canary Islands, particularly northern Tenerife, Lanzarote and El Hierro, are the parts of Spain that have seen their temperatures rise the most since 1961.  

A separate study from the Climate Shift Index revealed that Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Valencia and Zaragoza are among the ten European cities most affected by climate change. 

Which areas in Spain have been least affected by global warming? 

The places where the temperatures have risen the least and will be affected by global warming to a much lesser degree have been marked in light yellow on the map. This represents a temperature rise of between 0C and 1.49C. 

These places are mainly located in northern Spain, but inland from the coastal areas. These include much of north and western Castilla y León, La Rioja, the southern parts of the Basque Country, Cantabria and Asturias, as well as the eastern part of Galicia. 

The other big area where temperatures have risen the least over the past 60 years is a large part of Andalusia, with the exception of the Guadalquivir Basin around Córdoba and Seville. 

The southern tip of Castilla-La Mancha, the western half of Murcia and the southern part of Valencia have also been marked in yellow, indicating that the temperature hasn’t risen significantly within the last 60 years. 

What does this mean for the future?

If these regions keep warming at a similar or faster rate than they have been since the beginning of the 60s, there may be large parts of the country that will become too hot to live in in the future. 

The head of the ocean ecology laboratory at NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre in the US, Carlos del Castillo, recently warned that Spain could break its current record of 47.6C and reach a scorching 50C or more.

He believes that if governments don’t drastically reduce emissions from fossil fuels, the country will suffer a greater number of heatwaves in the coming years.