Southern Europe faces dire drought, the worst in more than 20 years

COMPILED FROM WIRE SERVICES
ISTANBUL
Published 11.09.2017 23:22

Portugal's Pego do Altar reservoir looks like disused quarry now, its bare, exposed slopes rising up steeply on each side and shimmering in the sun as it holds barely 11 percent of the water it was designed for.

The huge lake where people used to swim, boat and fish has shrunk to a slither of water, surrounded by baked, cracked earth and a handful of white fish carcasses. It is a desolate and disturbing sight and one that has become increasingly common in southern Portugal.

While parts of the United States and the Caribbean are drowning in water amid ferocious hurricanes, a drought is tightening its grip on wide areas of Portugal. More than 80 percent of the country is officially classified as enduring "severe" or "extreme" drought — conditions among the country's worst in more than 20 years.

Water has sporadically been scarce in this part of southern Europe for centuries. But Portuguese Environment Secretary Carlos Martins tells The Associated Press that "it has gotten worse with climate change."

The prolonged dry spell is most acute in the Alentejo region, south and east of Lisbon, the capital. Here, the essential river is the Sado, Portugal's seventh-largest. As its flow has dwindled, so the reservoirs in the river basin, such as Pego do Altar, are drying up. In some places now, the Sado is a thin, knee-deep flow.

The receding water at Pego do Altar has exposed a small, 18th-century stone bridge which was last seen in 1999. Locals have been coming to take photos of themselves next to it.

The dead fish in Pego do Altar's dried mud are the canary in the mine for authorities. Large numbers of fish dying due to depleted oxygen levels would contaminate the area's public drinking water, so a program to scoop out the doomed fish from four Sado basin reservoirs is now underway. It's a race against the clock.

Forest fires rage in southern France this summer. France's Mediterranean coast is particularly vulnerable to fires, with its massive back-country forests, often dry in the summer, and Mistral winds blowing across the sea to fan flames. Smoke blew across the shores from the fires that were visible across bays on the picturesque coast, frightening some. But firefighters warned against panic. No injuries have been reported among residents and vacationers. Further south, flames ate through some 2,000 hectares of forest on the northern end of the French Mediterranean island of Corsica, in what was the largest blaze.

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