Battling villains

Jemima as Tank Girl by Nikki Hedley

I’ve always felt rather akin to the cult comic book character Tank Girl… if more in terms of her sense of style than her life struggle. But now I have also begun to relate to the challenges she faces. Tank Girl’s story is set in a dystopian future world that has been struck by a comet and hasn’t seen rain for 11 years. She spends a great deal of her time battling the evil corporation “Water and Power” that monopolizes water, and from whom she and her friends have to steal the precious resource in order to survive.

Now, while I’m obviously not pitting myself against an evil super-villain here in Portugal, I am in the grips of another foe – Climate Change – and my smallholding is feeling the pinch. This past winter brought the worst drought Portugal has experienced for more than 80 years. In a country that sees little or no rain through the long hot summer months, Portuguese farmers rely on winter rains to fill their wells and tide them through the year ahead. Instead, the early months of this year were a scary time of forest fires, hungry livestock and dying crops.

As the cool season drew to a close we welcomed some spring rain, which turned the country green again, but a tension lingered as we all wondered, was it enough? Now, it’s July and the sun rules the day. My vegetable garden, grape vines, fruit, nut and olive trees are well established and all going strong.

But this morning, with a knot of dread in my stomach, I became aware that the gentle trickling sound that tells me that the spring on my land is running was… absent.

Like much of the land in this area, my smallholding, or quinta, is terraced and littered with boulders, so a bit of a scramble was needed to check things out. Perhaps a goat had knocked a tap (it’s happened before!) or a pipe had burst? I ran through every alternative scenario as I climbed up to find the one that I was avoiding – the spring was dry.

As I frown at my water holding-tanks and hope they last, I can tell you: this year, water will be a precious commodity in central Portugal.

But it’s not only the drought that has people worried. With each year that the weather becomes more erratic, planning for the growing season becomes more difficult. We have drought when it ought to rain, hail when it ought to be dry, frosts when it ought to be warm… What will the future hold?

Turning once more to Tank Girl’s fight for water, if climate change is going to make this resource, so necessary for all life, harder and harder to access, I hope that – rather than it becoming a source of profit – it will be something we all work to share, protect and respect.

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