Unesco demands Spain to close the farms next to Doñana that PP, Cs and Vox want to legalize | Climate and Environment

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UNESCO has demanded that Spain close the illegal strawberry farms and their clandestine wells in the surroundings of the Doñana park, declared a World Heritage Site in 1994. PP and Ciudadanos, who govern in Andalusia, and Vox intend to regularize 1,460 hectares of these illegal farms through a parliamentary initiative. The international organization, which already called on the Government two years ago to eliminate these greenhouses that deplete the Doñana aquifer, now asks it to inform it of the damage that the legalization planned by the Andalusian Parliament could cause in the reserve.

The director of the World Heritage Center of the international organization, Lazare Eloundou, sent a letter on Tuesday to his ambassador to Spain, José Manuel Rodríguez Uribes, asking him to inform him, “as soon as possible”, about the plans of the two parties that govern the Andalusian Board (PP and Ciudadanos) and the extreme right (Vox), and that can affect the biodiversity of the reserve. “The report must be notified before hardly reversible decisions are made, so that the committee [del patrimonio mundial] can participate in the search for appropriate solutions to ensure the preservation of the universal and exceptional value of the protected asset”, reads the 50-page letter.

UNESCO already demanded in February 2020 the closure of farms and wells in a joint mission with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Ramsar convention on wetlands, a demand that the agency reiterated last summer during its Committee of the World Heritage in its 44th session. The Government has until December 1 to submit its report on the state of conservation of Doñana to UNESCO, in order to prevent it from being included on the list of endangered natural heritage, a decision that would be adopted in 2023.

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Eloundou demands that Spain urgently explain the damage that the Andalusian parliamentary initiative can cause Doñana, in order to act, if necessary, and try to stop it. The international organization reminds the Spanish ambassador and former Minister of Culture that member countries “can report on new developments that could modify the exceptional value” of the enclaves included in the list of World Heritage Sites. The letter contrasts with the opinion of the Andalusian president, Juan Manuel Moreno, ultimately responsible for the initiative, who said on Wednesday from Brussels that he sees “no possibility of sanctions” by the European institutions and that “at no time” will the increase of irrigation endangers the biodiversity of Doñana.

The 54,251 hectares of Doñana include wetlands – now almost dry – with diverse ecosystems that are home to unique fauna and whose survival is threatened by the growth of intensive agriculture and the urban center of Matalascañas (Almonte, Huelva), which caused the aquifer of the reserve was declared “overexploited” by the Government a year and a half ago. Despite the fact that the bill is transparent about the expansion of irrigable agricultural land by 1,460 hectares, Moreno insisted on Wednesday in denying the largest: “No one is talking about expanding irrigation,” reports Efe.

A flock of flamingos flies over the Santa Olalla lagoon, in the Doñana National Park.
A flock of flamingos flies over the Santa Olalla lagoon, in the Doñana National Park.
Paco Bridges

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The letter was born as a result of the complaint sent by the environmental association WWF, which informed UNESCO about the plans of the Andalusian right to put even more pressure on the aquifer of the reserve. “The Board has not closed a single farm, despite the fact that it is their responsibility as those responsible for the planning of the territory. This bill goes completely against the opinion of UNESCO. Instead of closing the farms, it legalizes them”, protests Teresa Gil, head of the WWF water program.

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The intention of the three Andalusian political groups is that the expansion of irrigation is a reality before the summer, hence it is processed by way of urgency. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation has not clarified the deadlines set by Rodríguez Uribes to collect the information and send it to the agency’s headquarters in Paris.

The UNESCO letter includes as annexes the WWF letter on the bill, the text of the Andalusian right registered in the regional Parliament and the analysis of the environmental organization on compliance with the plan to protect the aquifer. In addition, it reminds the Government of the request of the four experts who visited Doñana in February 2020: “The World Heritage Committee has reiterated its concern about the three water rafts [parte del acuífero] declared overexploited and has required the Spanish State to comply with the recommendations made by the joint mission of UNESCO, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Ramsar convention on wetlands, which two years ago demanded a better reserve protection.

That mission of environmental experts required Spain to increase “the available resources” of the Guadalquivir Hydrographic Confederation, dependent on the Ministry of Ecological Transition, and “provide technology to control all illegal wells and irregular greenhouses”, in addition to the development of the plan to protect the aquifer that the Board established in 2017.

Regarding the first requirement, the ministry increased the staff assigned to monitor clandestine greenhouses from two to six river guards, who have managed to reduce the area of ​​illegal plastic from 1,202 hectares in 2019 to 766 hectares in 2021, according to the data. collected by remote sensing through satellites. Regarding the second demand, the aquifer protection plan, which corresponds to the Andalusian Board, the duties are much more delayed: only 17% of the plan has been executed, 83% of the measures are incomplete and 40% of them had not even started last year, according to a WWF analysis.

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The ultimate goal is for the aquifer’s water masses to recover their “good ecological status” and Spain should comply with it before 2027, the deadline set by the European water framework directive. Meanwhile, the organization SEO Bird Life has launched a campaign to request the paralysis of the bill that “could make Doñana disappear”, and which currently has 6,000 signatures.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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