Water scarcity, drought to be priority of Portugal’s EU council presidency

  • Lusa
  • 10 September 2020

The Minister of the Environment said that the water scarcity and drought as part of adaptation to climate change will be a priority of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Water scarcity and drought as part of adaptation to climate change will be a priority of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which begins in January 2021, the Minister of the Environment said.

João Pedro Matos Fernandes was speaking at the closing session of the XI Iberian Congress on Water Management and Planning, which, due to the pandemic, took place for the first time ‘online’.

“Recognising progress in the way the European Union has been addressing the reduction of water availability in the context of climate change, we believe that more robust measures are needed to minimise the impacts of these phenomena,” he said.

According to the Minister, “climate change is exacerbating the pressures on water”, by changing the precipitation regime combined with rising temperatures and “causing significant changes in the availability of water resources.

In this circumstance, “basin management must be highly effective and capable of responding immediately to the consequences of extreme events, whether drought or flooding.

In a context of shared basins between Portugal and Spain, the response “is even more demanding”, since both countries may “experience, simultaneously, a situation of water stress”.

“It is necessary to move forward with the water transition” and promote water saving, efficient use and circulation, he argued, noting that “the reuse of treated wastewater emerges as an opportunity that we must know how to exploit and that Portugal will really exploit”.

“Today there is European regulation that allows us to explore this new alternative source safely and rigorously, and the conditions are created for the use of different types of treated wastewater for multiple purposes,” he stressed.

The pandemic “has demonstrated how complex what is ahead of us is,” the minister warned, stressing that “the importance of water as a basic and essential element for human survival has been demonstrated, unfortunately, for the worst reasons.

On the other hand, the relationship between environment and health and water and health “was long included in the political agendas”, but, due to the pandemic, “it will be easy to recognize that, as of this year, it will never be forgotten or subordinated”.

The minister said that the period of drought that devastated Portugal and Spain between 2014 and 2017 “was perhaps the reason that contributed the most to the negative evolution of the state of the water bodies.

The minister highlighted “the effort” that Portugal and Spain “have made to move forward in an increasingly integrated manner in terms of planning” to achieve the objectives of the Water Framework Directive in 2027 in shared water bodies.

“This goal assumes even greater relevance in a global context of climate change, which for Portugal represents a double challenge: a mitigation challenge, for which we are working towards achieving carbon neutrality in 2050, and an adaptation challenge, in order to reduce our vulnerability to extreme weather events, such as heat waves and droughts, associated with forest fires and also desertification,” he said.

“Although climate change affects all sectors of activity, water management is at the heart of our adaptation concerns,” said the Minister.