Sustainability and water

Portugal ratified the European Landscape Convention many years ago – has anyone ever considered it positively for Portuguese landscapes?

Sustainability and water are two sides of the same reality. For example, in some areas of the Sahara desert, which I know to some degree, there is a certain sustainability related to the available water – it's all a matter of degree.

The water in the territory depends on the climate and the sustainability of ecosystems. We all know that the climate is at the mercy of climate change that human activities add to climate variations of natural origin.

In this area, scientists have long predicted the worsening of unfavorable conditions in the Mediterranean and southern latitudes of the Iberian Peninsula, with prolonged droughts and extreme precipitation events.

The recent occurrences in the south of France and the drought situation in the Algarve for some years now and in the reservoirs of the Algarve dams should leave no room for doubt.

The sustainability of the territory depends on conservation and the degree of climatic activity of the ecosystems, which is challenged by the state of abandonment of large areas of our country, especially the thousands of hectares throughout the Alentejo and Ribatejo, without any use; and with the lack of adequate forest cover in the hydrographic basins and especially in their headwaters, which, we should all know, is where the flows that supply the aquifers and streams downstream are formed.

There is a booklet by Prof. Manuel Gomes Guerreiro, “The forest in soil and water conservation”, forgotten today, but that everyone – politicians, technicians and journalists – should read…

We have abandoned territory.

Nothing is done to promote agriculture in the thousands of fallow hectares, because for many years we no longer have Ministries of Agriculture and their Regional Directorates committed to this task, unlike other EU countries, especially France, which uses the funds from the CAP to cultivate all its agricultural space, even on the small plots of the Pyrenees…

Around here, the Rural Extension Services, which were fundamental to assist and motivate the arrival of new small and medium farmers and occupy the interior, today given over in its vastness to the extreme eucalyptus and pine forests, which burn each year, gradually , without anything being done to have an adequate forestry policy. And the patience to always hit this key is lacking.

The sustainability of water resources presupposes the cleaning and maintenance of banks and beds, so that the flows drain without difficulty; at least here in the south, we have streams and drainage lines invaded by scrubland and that turn into fire lines in the event of rural fires. When there were teams led by kingfishers, the streams were always clean.

Portugal ratified the European Landscape Convention many years ago – has anyone ever considered it positively for Portuguese landscapes?

When a “Landscape Transformation Program” was announced, the expectation was that the necessary incentives to have sustainable landscapes would finally be activated.

But if we look at the Algarve, we are concerned:

– hundreds of hectares have been transformed, or in the process of doing so, into avocado orchards, a water-demanding crop that, as we know, is a resource that abounds here…

We already had as watered orchards the traditional citrus fruit that made the Algarve famous – what our regional agriculture should strive for, if it were aware of the scarcity of rainfall that awaits us, was to experiment with short cycle crops and undemanding water, such as practice many of the Mediterranean countries that live in the same conditions;

– intensive olive groves have infested the Alentejo, like new eucalyptus trees, sucking up the soil and being sprayed by plane with herbicides and pesticides, because there is no better sustainability than this one… for investors, of course, that after “eating the meat”, when stop being profitable, leave the bones behind and go explore another location. Now almond groves will come instead of olive groves…

– the Monchique region continues to be transformed into what has been its fate – terraced slopes to plant more eucalyptus, which burn every year – here is another sustainable landscape that “they” think it is…

Resetting the autochthonous forest is a utopian fantasy. One or another project under way to restore the forest, although commendable, is not enough to oppose the dimension of replanting eucalyptus. From the Governance, nothing comes...

There are no campaigns to raise awareness among the population about saving water (they are waiting for the taps to run out of water and then booing) – unless a few prayers to Our Lady and the rain dances still work.

The hypothesis of desalination was officially mentioned for the first time, a strategy used for a long time throughout the Mediterranean, to provide public water supply and leaving increasingly scarce water from reservoirs for agricultural uses and for populations in the interior.

They are waiting for a capitalist, perhaps Chinese, to come and propose the business, because, for public business, it's not possible, the private one is good… One day they will come back with the proposal to privatize Águas do Algarve…

If we do not learn now from the revelations that the pandemic has brought to everyone's eyes about the weaknesses of neoliberal globalization and the consumerist spirit of the market without rules, then there is little chance of building a better future for the generations to come.


Author Fernando Santos Pessoa is a landscape architect