Desert is claiming southeast Spain

Lush fields of lettuce and hothouses of tomatoes line the roads. Verdant new developments of plush pastel vacation homes beckon buyers from Britain and Germany. Golf courses – 54 of them, all built in the past decade and most in the past three years – give way to the beach. At last, this hardscrabble corner of southeast Spain is thriving.

There is only one problem with this picture of bounty: This province, Murcia, is running out of water. Spurred on by global warming and poorly planned development, swaths of southeast Spain are steadily turning into desert.

This year in Murcia farmers are fighting developers over water rights. They are fighting each other over who gets to water their crops. And in a sign of their mounting desperation, they are buying and selling water like gold on a burgeoning black market.

“Water will be the environmental issue this year,” said Barbara Helferrich, spokeswoman for the European Union’s Environment Directorate. “The problem is urgent and immediate.”

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