Desertification warning

August 20th
Thirty-seven out of every 100 hectares of land in Spain could turn to desert as unsustainable agricultural practices, over-development and climate change take their toll on the country's forests and grasslands, a new study shows.

The shocking figure is contained within a plan to combat desertification that was belatedly unveiled Tuesday by the government after many years of delays. And it tells a story of its own about the ongoing and rapid deterioration of Spain's natural habitats.

Since government researchers - at the urging of the United Nations - began working on the National Action Plan against Desertification in 2003, the area of land suffering from the phenomenon has increased by 20 percent.

Of the 37 percent of Spain's territory under threat, around half is considered to be at serious risk of turning to near-lifeless desert.

Many of the worst-affected areas are well known for their aridity, such as the eastern-most Canary Islands and the southeastern province of Almería on the Spanish mainland. Others less so, including large swathes of Castilla-La Mancha and the agricultural breadbasket of Alicante and Murcia, where aquifers are drying up or turning salty.

However, despite the five years spent working on the plan, government officials have offered few new solutions - the main suggestions being to plant more trees and improve farming practices - nor have they proposed a budget for putting them into effect.

Environmentalists say it amounts to too little too late.

"They are undervaluing the impact of urban development on desertification," notes Theo Oberhuber, a spokesman for Ecologistas en Acción, who notes that the delays in presenting the plan are surprising given that Spain is one of the "countries most at risk from desertification".

[El Pais / E De Benito / Expatica]Expatica

For full details of the Plan (PAND) in Castellano see:

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