A sustained drought has revealed the ruins of a village in central Portugal that was totally submerged underwater. In happened when a large reservoir was created nearly 70 years ago.
76 years old Carlos Perdigao gazes at the ruined stone houses of Vilar. It was swallowed up by the Zezere river when a dam was opened in 1954.
Vilar stands on the banks of the river which is surrounded by cracked yellow earth. There is another sign of the ongoing dry spell during what is normally a rainy winter season. Drought is also hitting neighbouring Spain.
Weather services in both countries said that it was the second driest January on record since 2000.
Climate scientist Ricardo Deus said that the current drought is extraordinary.
Portugal has 55 dams. 24 are only holding half of their water capacity. 5 are below 20 percent. European Union’s Copernicus Earth observation service has said so.
Portugal’s southernmost province is Algarve. It is one of Europe’s top tourism destinations. It is one of those most affected by the drought.
Spain got a quarter of the precipitation it normally gets in January.
The dry spell began at the end of 2021. It is ruining crops, leaving farmers struggling to feed livestock. It is also hampering hydroelectricity production.
It is a disaster
Portugal ordered five of its hydropower dams to suspend water use for electricity production. They want to prioritise human consumption.
Almost 30 percent of Portugal’s electricity comes from hydropower dams.
Agriculture Minister of Spain said that the government was “concerned” about the drought. It would adopt “necessary measures” depending on how the situation evolves.
Spain’s water reserves are currently at less than 45 percent of their capacity. Southern Andalusia region and Catalonia in the northeast worst hit.
Farmers are worried about the situation. The lack of rain is also jeopardising the town’s efforts to draw tourists inland with a floating pool structure. It has been set up for bathers in the Zezere river.
But the pool’s plastic lining lies slumped on the ground. The drought is forcing the river to recede.
The area was also hit by a wave of wildfires. It raged through parched farmlands and forests in 2017.
No end in sight
More frequent and intense droughts are expected to put enormous effects on climate-vulnerable regions. It will also heighten the risk of related natural disasters such as wildfires.