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Spain pledges EUR350M to save Doñana wetlands

BARCELONA (AP) – Spain’s government pledged to invest EUR350 million in the country’s Doñana wetlands, a UNESCO world heritage site that ecologists say is dying due to the misuse of water and climate change.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced the pledge on Thursday during a visit to the Doñana National Park.

A European Union (EU) court ruled last year that Spanish authorities had failed in their duty to protect the wetlands, and the government faces a hefty fine unless takes actions to preserve the ecosystem.

Sitting on an estuary where the Guadalquivir River meets the Atlantic Ocean, the wetlands cover 74,000 hectares. They are a wintering site for a half-million waterfowl and a stopover spot for millions of other birds that migrate from Africa to northern Europe.

But the national park’s lagoons and marshes have dried up under a prolonged drought and decades of agriculture and a nearby beach town draining the aquifer underlying the area.

A water meter in a dry wetland in Doñana National Park. PHOTO: AP

The area surrounding the park is plagued by hundreds of unauthorised wells that illegally pump out water to feed crops that are exported across Europe.

The Spanish government said the EUR350 million would go toward recovering “this emblematic space and reverting the situation of environmental degradation”.

Measures to save the park will include “the reduction of extractions from underground water sources and the recovery of surface water”, the government said.

The World Wildlife Fund applauded the action by central authorities but demanded that regional authorities do more to control the illegal extraction of water.

“We consider this a great step,” the conservation organisation said. “(But) we believe that the priority is to close down all the farms using illegal irrigation in the area around Doñana.”