Thirsty Europe: the effects of climate change in Catalonia on forests and farmers

Photographer Michele Curel considers the implications of climate change in Spain’s northwest region as part of a cross border project investigating solutions to drought in Europe.


As a result of climate change, droughts are on the rise in Europe and local and national governments are preparing for increasingly dry years. The Southern Alps and Mediterranean regions are all particularly affected. How are these regions coping with these issues?

Thirsty Europe is a cross border project, funded through an EU Crossborder Investigative Journalism Grant, that has searched for some of the solutions to the problems generated by drought. This fascinating investigative story explores South Tyrol (Italy), Sicily (Italy), Andalusia/Algarve (Spain/Portugal) and Catalonia (Spain), through funding from the EU Cross Border Investigative Journalism Grant.

My name is Michele Curel, I am a photographer, and I investigated the story in Catalonia; some of the results can been seen in my photo blog.

Catalonia has suffered serious droughts in the past. However, the present drought of 2023 is the worst and is due to the decrease in rainfall since autumn 2020, the lowest it’s been for 3 years on record since 1914. Added to this long stretch of drought is the heat, which has been increasing dramatically since 1973, peaking since 2021, and which has been causing much of the harm.

Catalonia has already been preparing for its new scenario of less rainfall and hotter temperatures and is at the forefront of many drought research and technological projects. Prestigious research centres, CREAF (Ecological and Forestry Applications Research Center) and the Forest Science and Technology Centre of Catalunya (CTFC)  provide examples of how they are tackling drought in the forest sector since 2012.

The agricultural sector has also been hit hard, and has suffered water shortages for the first time. Spain exported 68% of its fruits and vegetables to Europe in 2021. However new technology irrigation systems and regenerative agriculture have become solutions for this generally dry and arid region, again supported by research centres and local administrations spearheading the fight against drought, such as the Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology (IRTA) and the Climate Action Department of the Generalitat de Catalonia (Government of Catalonia).

These issues make the experts ask themselves a few questions, however. Should Spain be the garden of Europe? Should a country with water resource problems be growing water intensive crops or should it be concentrating on growing dry crops? Should we be tearing down dams and letting the rivers flow freely with their natural “heartbeat? Would the rivers know how to tackle climate change better than humans? Some experts are already saying that in some scenarios these may be the solutions. These questions remain to be answered, therefore, and if put into practice would mean a revolutionary change of the present order of things.

See more stunning photos in Michele Curel’s photo blog.

The Thirsty Europe project was made possible by the EU Crossborder Investigative Journalism Grant.

SOURCEMichele Curel
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Michele Curel
Freelance photographer for 30+ years specialized in portrait and architecture. In the more recent past and after becoming a cork forest landowner in Catalonia in 2013 her interests have veered toward producing MULTI-MEDIA projects on women empowerment, bioeconomy, drought and sustainable forest management issues to bridge the gap between urban and rural societies.