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Spaniards pray for rain

A severe drought threatens the livelihood of farming towns

An olive branch in the Province of Jaen region, Spain Getty Images/Photo by Edwin Remsberg/VWPics/Universal Images Group

Spaniards pray for rain

In the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, Roman Catholic priests are conducting special religious ceremonies asking God to alleviate a devastating drought.

“I have already said prayers at Mass to ask for rain but this will be a ceremony in which we will take an [effigy] of the Holy Trinity from a hermitage outside the town and call for rain,” priest Antonio Rosario told Al Jazeera in the small town of L’Espluga de Francolí. “Our need is so great.”

Worshipers in the city of Jaén took part in a similar religious procession on Monday, May 1. They walked down the streets of Jaén bearing a large statue of Jesus Christ carrying a cross known as the “Abuelo de Jaén.” According to the province’s diocese, this is the first time Jaén residents have held a procession to pray for rain since 1949.

Jaén exports more olive oil than any city in Spain. The drought has devastated olive crops and impaired production.

Spain has suffered from the drought since the end of 2022 according to Ricardo Torrijo, a spokesperson for Spain’s State Meteorological Agency.

On April 27, temperatures in Córdoba in southern Spain smashed city records when thermometers hit 101.8 degrees. Spain received 28 percent less rain than expected between October and mid-May, according to Spain’s national weather service.

“The drought dried up reservoirs, parched olive groves, and led to water restrictions across the country,” NASA said in a statement. The U.S. agency released two satellite images of Spain taken a year apart that show the browning of the country. The authorities in L’Espluga de Francoli are shutting off the water supply between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., making it impossible to clean any dishes or even get a glass of water during those times.

Manuel Navas, a resident of L’Espluga de Francoli, explained to Al Jazeera how he gets up at 5 am to work at a paper mill but cannot take a shower before he leaves home. Instead, he showers at the mill.

According to the Olive Oil Times, Andalusia alone produced 34 percent of the world's olive oil during the 2021-2022 olive season. That amounts to 1.15 million tons.

People living in larger cities are less likely to feel the effects of the drought. Kevin Book-Satterly, a missionary from California, has lived in Granada, Spain, for seven years.

“There definitely is a drought,” he said. “Until the last two weeks, there has not been much rain.” But he said that people in the city talk about the drought more than they suffer from it, while a drought can ruin local economies in farming areas. City officials in Granada have mentioned water rationing, but have not enforced anything yet.

To counteract the environmental crisis and prevent an economic one, Spain requested funds from the European Union to help farmers. Additionally, Spain approved a $2.3 billion plan to keep crops and cattle alive.

The Spanish Minister of Agriculture Luis Planas declared that his department would use some of the money to support grain and livestock farmers. The environment minister, Teresa Ribera, wants to focus on growing Spain’s distillation infrastructure and double the proportion of reused water in urban areas by 2027.

Jeremy Abegg-Guzman

Jeremy Abegg-Guzman is a student at New Saint Andrews College and a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

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