Desertification and forest fires in the Iberian Peninsula
Spain runs a high risk of desertification due to the characteristics of its extensive arid and semi-arid terrain, especially in the south and east Mediterranean area, where the historical lack of water is being aggravated by climate change, the rapidly increasing demand for water for human consumption (due to a growing population along the coast) and for recreational and agricultural purposes.
Forest fires are frequent in this Mediterranean area and in the Northeast of the peninsula, reduce the forest mass and are among the 7 main causes of desertification. In 2016, the Environment Ministry warned of a high risk of desertification which could affect 80% of the peninsula by the end of the 21st century.
It is worrying that in 2017, more than double the number of hectares of forest have burned than in 2016, despite specific programmes for prevention put in place by the National State Administration together with the autonomous communities, although funds for this purpose have decreased in the past few years. Paradoxically, Central Government is spending six times more to extinguish fires than on campaigns to prevent them.
In the countryside, fire has for millennia been a tool for environmental management, for stubble burning or to increase pastures, and these activities still contribute significantly to forest fires, although intentional fires (due to rezoning, urban development and corruption) have increased significantly in the past decades. Castilla-León, Galicia and Asturias are the areas most affected in all their provinces because of numerous recurrent and clearly intentional forest fires.
Image of the Iberian Peninsula, which clearly shows the widespread distribution of arid and semi-arid areas; data from LANDSAT-5 TM published by Eurimage (ESA / M-Sat 1995). Initial treatment by EDISAT. Geo-referencing, treatment and preparation of the image with relief effect: J. Espiago and C. Almonacid.