Future projections from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) indicate that there will be a sharp increase in extreme events in Europe, particularly in heatwaves, droughts, and heavy precipitation. It is in the driest regions where precipitation is expected to decrease, while it increases in the wet regions.

The impacts forecasted by the IPCC in their most recent report on Climate Change related to water shortage include (non-exhaustive list):

  • Climate changes during the 21st century will significantly reduce surface and underground water resources, intensifying competition for water among sectors;
  • Due to the expected climate changes, the global redistribution of marine species and the reduction of marine biodiversity in sensitive regions will challenge the sustainability of fishery productivity and other ecosystem services;
  • Major impacts are expected in rural areas as a result of impacts on water availability and supply, food security, and agricultural income, including changes in the production areas of food and non-food crops worldwide;
  • All aspects of food security are potentially affected by climate change, and subsequent water scarcity, including access to food, use and price stability;
  • Portugal will become hotter, and the country's Southern region will suffer the most from the water stress situation it will be exposed to.

Let's imagine what the Summer of 2050 in the Algarve, a region known for its natural beauty, golden beaches, Mediterranean climate, world-class golf courses and rich marine fauna, will be like. It has been facing unprecedented challenges due to water stress caused by climate change. This crisis has impacted the lives of various people in the region, each with their unique perspective:

As a tourist, I notice the difference when arriving in the Algarve compared to my childhood summer holidays. The water use restrictions affect my holiday experience, from the amount of water available in the hotel to the quality of food in restaurants. The Algarve, which was once an idyllic summer destination, is now facing challenges that require substantial adaptations, seriously harming the quality of the holiday experience, particularly as a golf player; the water crisis has had a significant impact on the sport that I love so much. Some courses were forced to reduce their maintenance or even close. Despite these changes, I have observed efforts to preserve golf in the region with the introduction of more sustainable practices, such as the use of more drought-resistant grass species and the implementation of more efficient irrigation systems, some of which have adopted the use of wastewater for irrigation. According to the Portuguese Golf Federation, golf courses are responsible for "only" 6% of consumption in the region. However, I now prefer to enjoy the experience of playing golf on courses in northern Europe, where the grass remains lush.

From a catering professional's perspective, the lack of water has made food preparation and hygiene maintenance more difficult, as well as a sharp rise in food prices. The scarcity of fresh products, especially fish, led me to change my menu, opting for dishes that require less water and more drought-resistant ingredients. The Algarve, which was a culinary destination for its appreciated fresh fish, can no longer offer the same gastronomic richness to its visitors.

As a local farmer, the lack of water has impacted all areas of my farming life. Daily water rationing has become a necessity, forcing me to profoundly change irrigation practices. However, I have also found ways to be more efficient and cultivate more drought-resistant species. I wish I had started these practices years ago, which perhaps would have allowed me, along with other farmers, to reduce the effects of this water shortage situation.

In my capacity as a fisherman on the Algarve coast, the lack of fresh water has brought unexpected challenges. The alteration of marine ecosystems due to climate change and the scarcity of fresh water has impacted fish populations and, consequently, my daily catch. I've had to adapt, looking for different species or going to more distant fishing areas.

As an Algarve resident, I feel the changes in my daily life. Water rationing has forced me to alter my habits and be more conscious of water use. The shortage of fresh food and the changes in the landscape are also hard to ignore. I see fewer tourists enjoying our beaches and golf courses, leading to a consequent decrease in consumption in local hotels, bars, and restaurants. As anticipated by the PIACC-AMAL, we've witnessed the disappearance of Ria Formosa, the VRSA bar, and the Castro Marim Sapal Nature Reserve.

In my position as a local councilor in the Algarve, the challenges are enormous. As predicted by the PIACC-AMAL, the dams of Bravura and Lagos, Odelouca, and the Querença-Silves Aquifer, have collapsed and no longer serve the region. We've reached the predicted situation for the increasing trend in the maximum duration of extreme droughts in the region, which now reach up to 7 months within a year. The increase in mortality associated with heat waves and the decrease in water resources, with a rise between 2% and 7%. However, I am committed to implementing water conservation measures throughout the municipality and to encouraging education and environmental awareness. I believe that despite the challenges, we will overcome this crisis and find ways to live in harmony with our environment, and we will be able to offer the best living conditions once again to our inhabitants and the best tourism experience for our visitors. A joint effort is required from various local and national actors to develop the multiple tools that will allow us to mitigate the effects of water stress, not only in the Algarve but in other regions of our country that also suffer from the same problems.

In summary, water stress in the Algarve has significantly impacted various areas of life and work. Sustainability has become more important than ever, and although the changes are difficult, they also bring opportunities for learning and innovation. The fundamental question is that concerted action between the public and private sectors, citizens, governments, and companies, must begin now, and not only when the environmental, social, and economic damages are already unbearable!

Have a great and impactful week!

Marta Lima
Executive Director of the Portuguese Water Management Pact
Executive in Residence at the Center for Responsible Business & Leadership