An Island Paradise Faces an Alarming Water Shortage

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There is trouble in paradise, as the popular tourist island of Cyprus faces a severe water shortage, with its reservoirs currently standing at around 9% full.

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The country has had three years of low levels of rainfall, and the possibility of a fourth year is looming. “It’s bad. Very bad,” Vlassis Partassides, head of water management at Cyprus’s water development department, said in an interview with Reuters. “If the drought continues for a fourth year, the consequences will be very severe.”

Water has always been a valuable commodity on the Mediterranean island, which has one of the world’s highest concentrations of reservoirs. The country is used to regular periods of drought due to its location and climate, but there has been a sharp decrease in rain in the past 35 years. Since 1972, rainfall has decreased 20% and runoff into reservoirs has decreased by 40%.

The same period has seen a rise in temperature. In the last 100 years, the temperature rose by almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit, while rainfall per year dropped by three inches. Authorities lay the blame on global warming.

Costas Papastavros, head of the Cypriot national climate change unit, said: “Climate change is clearly evidenced in Cyprus. Climate change is not only about a rise in temperature, but also about extreme weather conditions, and drought is one of them. Desertification is also becoming a serious problem. It is not just that we do not have water in dams for irrigation, but we are looking at a decline in the productivity of soil, and we have a tremendous problem.”

Agriculture makes up less than 3% of the gross domestic product in Cyprus, although that number is higher in the separate, and politically unrecognized, Turkish government controlled north of the island. Still, citrus trees are a symbol of the island, and their survival is threatened.

The demand for water in Cyprus, for now, outstrips supply. Experts estimate the island will need almost 180 million cubic feet of water until the new year. Kouris, one of the island’s largest and most important dams, currently stands less than 2.5% full, with 3.23 million tons of water. The island is increasingly relying on desalinization plants for water, but they can only provide 45% of demand, and their operation is energy heavy.

Partassides said: “We don’t desalinate lightly, without being aware of the consequences. It is energy-consuming … and this causes (greenhouse gas) emissions Cyprus has to pay fines for. But while may we have the cash, we don’t have the water.”

Cyprus is looking at a bleak vision for the future. Officials believe the island will have to adapt to the changes wrought by global warming. They believe only significant changes in farming practice, as well as water management, will save the island. For now, they hope for rain.

Source: Reuters

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