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1. introduction

1. Introduction

Although water scarcity is recognised as an increasing problem in Southern and Western Europe, the management of freshwater resources is a key question all over the continent and it should be governed by this principle:

"The scarcity and abusive use of fresh water is posing a serious and ever-increasing threat to sustainable development and environmental protection. The human health and well-being, guarantee of food supply, industrial development and the ecosystems upon which this is dependent are all in jeopardy and remain so, unless the management of water and land-resources is immediately undertaken in a much more efficient way than it has been up to the present (UNO, 1992)".

The existing regional imbalance of water resources across the continent makes water shortage to be a great problem in many regions of Europe. This problem is particularly remarkable in zones with a semi-arid climate. The availability of water for human consumptive uses, and for other purposes, is often limited by poor quality. Eutrophication of rivers and lakes, over-exploitation of and salt intrusion in aquifers are the main features of poor water quality in semi-arid areas.

Good management of freshwater resources in the semi-arid regions is necessary for the maintenance of the required standards of water quality and quantity, and therefore for reaching the goals of EU Policies. The targets for the Fifth Environmental Action Programme (5EAP) and for the EU Action Programme for Integrated Groundwater Protection (GAP) are aimed to be implemented by the year 2000. One of the GAPŽŽŽŽs main purposes is to focus the groundwater protection requirements on the Common Agricultural Policy and on Regional Policy. Both aspects affect particularly the southern areas of Europe, where a high percentage of land is used for agricultural purposes and is supplied by groundwater with its associated problems of nitrates and pesticides. The 5EAP aims to maintain the water resources so that the regional balance between demand and availability is guaranteed. Risk management is another aspect which is targeted by the 5EAP objectives for EU. The main sources of risk to human health and the environment related to the semi-arid regions are floods, and forest fires. These are grouped as "natural hazards", but, at the moment, there are no EU policy targets to reduce these events.

In addition to all those aspects, the consequences of future climatic change may affect water availability in the EEA area. Special attention to extreme events, as well as soil degradation and desertification, should be taken into account when planning a long-term strategy in water management, particularly in semi-arid countries.

On the other hand, the degradation of natural vegetation originates changes in the micro-climate in arid and semi-arid areas, resulting in irreversible desertification. Apart from the countries where semi-arid areas are recognised, a greater EEA area may be susceptible to desertification as a result of a global warming.

This report includes a general overview of the present water resource situation in the semi-arid regions in the EEA, where these problems could constitute a threat to sustainable development and have major repercussions from environmental, social, economic and political perspectives. It has been structured into three parts: a) delimitation of semi-arid areas in the EEA, b) current water resources problems and c) incidence of climate on water resources in the future. Annex 1 contains definitions of the water resource terms used in the report.

The main part of the report, "current water resources problems", is broken down into the following contents:

  • Introduction

  • Water surface exploitation

  • Reservoir and lake eutrophication

  • Aquifer exploitation

  • Minimum and ecological flow

  • Wetlands

  • Seawater intrusion in coastal aquifers

  • Floods

  • Desertification and erosion in basins

  • Soil salinisation

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