The Big Fix

Southern Spain’s green-belt project aims to stave off impending desertification

The ambitious green-belt project aims to create a series of contiguous forests that would run for hundreds of miles across the country’s southern region — but it may take decades.

The World

July 29, 2021 – By Gerry Hadden

Climate change affects different regions differently. While Germany has seen record floods, as much as 75% of Spain is in danger of becoming a desert. The threat looms greatest in the country’s south. 

Biologist Fernando Bautista and farmer Agustin Bermejo are trying to stop it.

Their work is part of an ambitious green-belt project launched in 2016 to create a series of contiguous forests that would run for hundreds of miles across Spain’s south. The nongovernmental organization behind the effort, Alvelal, has studied similar projects in Kenya, the Sahel and elsewhere. A bulwark forest captures carbon dioxide and traps humidity — bringing more rain.

On a windy, hot morning this past spring, Bautista and Bermejo traversed a mountainside. It looked like they were above the tree line but they weren’t. This all used to be a forest. Now, there’s nothing but low, dry grass and stubby bushes.

What happened on this mountain in southern Spain’s remote interior tells the story of much of this region over the last 50 years.

There’s less and less natural vegetation, said Bautista, who grew up near here.

“I’ve watched the water disappear from rivers that never used to run dry,” he said. 

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Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.