Motoring south from the border with France, in the high Pyrenees, towards the city of Zaragoza, it is impossible not to notice how hard-hit Spain has been by the ongoing drought – le sequía ­– which has left large tracts of the country’s interior dead or dying, more like desert or the Russian steppe. 

The Pyrenees themselves are, of course, lush and green – though there was remarkably little snow in the winter just past, which meant that in May only the highest peaks bore traces of snow and ice. 

Further south, the countryside round the provincial capital, Huesca, was barely worthy of the name. It hasn’t rained here for months and the prognosis is for more – that is to say, less – to come. The villages that once thrived here were mostly abandoned in the post-war decades as Spain modernised and urbanised. There are very few farms left, just thin, dry grass, with next to no trees. I saw one newly-planted olive grove, a solar farm, several quarries and a state penitentiary. Other than that, few signs of life. 

This morning, I read that the Spanish Government has ear-marked 2.2 billion euros (£1.9bn) to mitigate the worst effects of the drought, which has devastated agriculture and obliged local authorities in a number of areas to ration water supplies. Money is to be provided for the contruction of additional reservoirs and coastal desalination plants. In towns and cities, outdoor workers, including builders, will be permitted to down tools during times of excessive heat. 

The extra cash seems sadly inadequate. Much, much more will surely have to be found. Spain, outside of the northern coastal belt stretching from the Basque Country to Galicia, has always been hot and dry. The rain never did fall mostly on the plain. But today, as a direct result of climate change, temperatures even in the more northerly regions, including Aragon, are at record highs. 

This week, mercifully, Zaragoza, the Aragonese capital, has been relatively cool – a pleasant 21 degrees celsius at midday, though with no rain forecast. But last week peaked at 31 degrees (in early May!) and the summer is likely to see a repeat of last year’s oven-like conditions, with 40 degrees considered typical from Mid-June all the way through to the end of August. 

It will be worse in Madrid – always a cauldron in the summer months – and throughout Andalusia. Cities need water in quantity. Zaragoza, with its population of 675,000, is bisected by the River Ebro, which winds some 950 kilometres (585 miles) from its source in the Cantabrian hills to a marshland delta south of Barcelona. The Ebro used to be broad and fast-flowing, but so much of it these days is diverted to towns and cities along its length that by the time it reaches the sea it is a mere shadow of its former self. Global warming has accentuated its decline, threatening to reduce it to a trickle, and it is hard to see how a hundred million euros here and ten million there will do much to restore its former vitality. 

Spain has a population of close to 47 million and is one of the most urbanised countries in Europe. The flight from the land began in the Franco years and has accelerated in every year since. Whereas in France farms are everywhere and a majority of city-dwellers retain family connections with the provinces, in Spain, outside of certain favoured areas, the interior is simply the space between cities, traversed by a dense network of motorways and high-speed trains. 

Agriculture, it should be stressed, remains crucial to the national economy. Cereals, wine, olives, oranges and tomatoes have been produced in abundance down the centuries. Farms in the north tend to be smaller and family-owned. In the south and centre, large estate are more common. But farms everywhere are suffering from the heat and increasing lack of water. Last year’s drought, combined with temperatures in the mid-40s, caused what has been described as an irreversible loss of five million hectares of land suitable for wheat, barley and maize. And with profits down, food imports (rather than exports) have increased, leading to bankruptcies and the temptation to call it a day and move into town. 

I should add that city life in Spain, if Zaragoza is typical, remains extremely agreeable. The shops are open until eight in the evening and look to be thriving. Families still head out to dinner at ten o’clock at night, often with their children and grandparents in tow. The switch to electric vehicles is gathering pace. Buses are either 100 per cent electric or hybrid, as are a growing proportion of private cars and delivery vehicles. Wind and solar farms surround the cities. The mood is happy, even with local and provincial elections just around the corner. There is absolutely no sense of panic – and that, perhaps, is the most worrying aspect of what is happening. 

Perhaps when the summer hits, in about four weeks’ time, the mood will change, and if it does, the Government’s 2.2 billion euros could come to seem like so much small change. 

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