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Fruit growers arrested for using illegal wells in drought-hit Spain

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26 people were arrested on Tuesday (9 May) for illegally tapping wells in southern Spain to grow tropical fruits such as mangos and avocados, amid a prolonged drought.

In the Axarquia region of Andalusia which has suffered from drought since 2021, authorities conducted a four-year probe and discovered more than 250 illegal boreholes, wells, and ponds.

Spain is Europe’s largest producer of tropical fruits, which require large amounts of water. Avocado production is expected to drop by 25 percent this year because of high temperatures and lack of water.

Police said that the suspects were being investigated on suspicion of misappropriation and fraudulent use of water to irrigate subtropical crops.

It was not specified whether the arrested were commercial or subsistence growers.

Water management in Spain has been brought to the forefront by the lack of rain, especially around the Donana wetlands, which are also located in Andalusia, and threatened by climate change, as well as illegal irrigation on nearby strawberry farms.

According to the Spanish weather agency AEMET, April was the driest month and the warmest since records began. Around 25% of reservoirs in Catalonia, Andalusia and other areas that were hardest hit by the drought are at average water levels.

Farmers in Catalonia in northeastern Spain staged a slow-down protest on their tractors Tuesday in several cities, demanding that the government provide help in dealing with the effects of the drought.

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The farming union Unio de Pagesos has urged the authorities to provide subsidies, tax incentives, and labor incentives as well as emergency network improvements in order to ensure a minimum water supply for farmers.

Due to water shortages, Josep Andreu, 35, a farmer from Catalonia, said that he only expected around 2% to be suitable for sale in this year.

He said that authorities “are not taking any measures to help this sector cope with the drought” during a demonstration in Lleida (about 150 km from Barcelona).

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