Running out of water, a lack of rainfall and abandonment of rural areas in Cyprus is moving half the the island at risk of becoming a desert and maybe more.
Only 1.5 percent of the land area the ridge of the Troodos mountain range – is not likely to be affected, the newspaper Kathimerini said, citing recent studies.
According to Cyprus’s Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and the Environment, which has set up national action plan to combat desertification, “since the 1960s, first with the increased pumping of groundwater, then the use of surface water stored in dams, usage has increased tremendously.”
Higher living standards, tourism and a 15 percent drop in average annual rainfall since 1970 are all contributing factors. There has since also been a greater frequency of two- to three-year droughts, with summers getting longer and hotter and with growing tourism – a saving economic grace but devastating to the environment in many ways.
Recent studies carried out as part of the desertification action plan found that 4.5 percent of the island – an area which surrounds the 1.5 percent that isn’t in any danger of desertification – is considered “humid,” with only a slight risk of drying up. Much of the rest of the island, however, is considered at least semi-arid and at an elevated risk of becoming so dry that it will become infertile.
In an interview with Kathimerini Cyprus in June, Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis said 57 percent of the island is in immediate danger of desertification and 42.3 percent is considered at moderate risk.
Meteorologists and climatologists warn that the number of unusually hot days are increasing and on track to exceed 30 per summer in the coming years. At the same time, they warn that rainfall levels will decrease by more than 100 millimeters each year.
The Agriculture Ministry’s new action plan focuses on 17 points. These include identifying the moisture carrying capacity of grazing areas, incentives for the maintenance of terraces and drylands for soil retention, measures to enhance traditional farming activities, land use control in critical areas, and the introduction of incentives to control and reduce water consumption.
“The goal is to strengthen Cyprus’s capacity to adapt to observed and predicted changes in weather patterns, as well as effectively prevent and address the negative impacts of climate change,” said Kouyialis.
“The adoption of such actions should help to promote a sustainable economy, optimize resource management, improve efficiency and protect infrastructure. At the same time it will create new opportunities,” he added.