Freshwater - Why care? (Portugal)
Freshwater, a basic natural resource for sustaining life, plays a key role in increasing the effectiveness of land ecosystems and is essential for human and economic activity. It must therefore be protected and safeguarded, and used as efficiently as possible.
Around 64 % of continental Portugal forms part of the basins of international rivers shared with Spain. This is why the country is dependent, in terms of water quantity and quality, on regulation through the Convenção sobre Cooperação para o Aproveitamento Sustentável das Águas das Bacias Hidrográficas Luso-Espanholas [Convention on Cooperation for the Sustainable Use of Waters in Portuguese-Spanish River Basins], known as the Albufeira Convention (MAOT, 2002).
As well as the need to share water resources, other constraints have to be addressed, such as a land-use pattern favouring excessive urbanisation, with consequent pressure on water resources; an agricultural sector that consumes 80 % of the water used; and significant water losses both when it is supplied for human consumption and for agriculture (MAOT, 2002).
Despite high annual average rainfall and flow values, and although Portugal is a relatively small country, there is great spatial, seasonal and temporal variability in rainfall which is exacerbated by climate change, consequently making flooding or drought unpredictable and at times making it difficult to sustain water flows, both in national and international rivers (MAOT, 2002).
Although they are improving, waste collection and processing levels remain low and a significant number of heavily polluting industries and agro-industrial holdings continue to lack effective waste processing systems. It is also estimated that around 8 % of the population of continental Portugal (2007 data) does not have piped water in the home to meet basic needs. Sustainable water management has therefore been prioritised in various government programmes. A great deal remains to be done, however, despite the improvements brought about as a result of integrated planning under the national water plan, river basin plans, plans for the use of reservoirs and coastal development plans.
- MAOT (2002). Plano Nacional da Água – Volumes I e II. Ministério do Ambiente e do Ordenamento do Território, Lisboa.