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Portugal vows to deal with ‘systemic drought’ in Algarve

Portugal’s government has said it will speed up investments worth €366 million to combat a “systemic drought” in the tourism-dependent southern Algarve and quickly provide water equivalent to one year’s urban usage in the region.

Environment Minister Maria da Graca Carvalho said the projects will include a desalination plant, repairing 125km of pipes to reduce water losses, interconnecting some reservoirs, and the use of treated wastewater at golf courses.

She told a parliamentary committee that the new government, which was sworn in in April, “will not discuss the projects any further and wants to execute them as quickly as possible”, mainly with the use of the European Union’s pandemic recovery funds.

Algarve is the region with the most water shortage problems, and drought there “has now become permanent, systemic”, Ms Carvalho said.

A 2022 study showed that climate change had already left the Iberian peninsula at its driest in 1,200 years.

According to data from the Portuguese environmental agency APA, 36 out of the 60 reservoirs it monitors across the country were more than 80% full last month, but water levels in the Algarve were between 22% and 43%.

The government last month eased some restrictions imposed in February on water consumption in the region, after rainfall partly refilled the dams.

Agricultural irrigation in the Algarve will have to drop by an average of 13% from 2023’s levels, compared to the previous 25% cut.

Portuguese official figures show that more than 320,000 Irish people visited the region last year.

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