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Antonio Aretxabala Díez,, Geologist. Professor of the School of Architecture of the University of Navarra.

A small demonstration of the power of nature

Fri, 25 Jan 2013 13:21:00 +0000 Published in ABC and newspapers of group Vocento


March 22, 2013 will be the official World Water Day (UN). January 2013 will already go down in history as one of the rainiest months in the history of many Spanish regions; explosive cyclogenesis, floods, aquifers and reservoirs already full are some of its gifts, but it never rains to everyone's liking. The worst thing: it has taken several lives, and the losses have not yet been counted, although talking about hundreds of millions of euros, who knows if it will be compensated by treasuring such a precious element in our external and subway reserves. What is wrong with water in Spain?

Water has a power and force of which we are often unaware. For example, the fundamental role of water erosion on the Hercynian mountain chain in western Spain reached heights similar to the Himalayas in Castile; today it appears as a slightly domed plateau with deep rocks of the ancient chain, originally several tens of kilometers deep. Here is a sample of the underestimated power of that part that sculpts even 60% of our bodies. Many tectonics specialists do not even think about it.

The uplift of mountain chains has an undeniable effect on global climate change. William F. Ruddiman is a pioneering and lively observer who talks about how the tectonic uplift of a mountain chain and its subsequent erosion raises it again by isostatic rebound, making the tenacity of the liquid element a decisive factor in the planet's climate change. The Himalayas have changed the climate of the entire Earth, the tenacity of water has been its driving force. Since Edmund Hilary first culminated the cima of the planet in 1953, it has already moved half a meter; millions of tons of rocks have been torn from the colossus of the Earth, all that lost weight propitiates its uplift. To identify water sculpting with the tendency to flatten is a mistake, there is much more to this living world.

The isostatic movements, thrusts, upheavals, also occur on a local scale, the dynamic pieces that make up the Earth also bring us displeasure, surprises, insecurity; we feel that dynamic as something far above us, water can be tame, harmless, refreshing, hygienic, but it can also show off its vast power. The inhabitants of the Loma de Úbeda have been suffering from this display of authority under their feet since October, and more than a thousand and a half earthquakes remind them every day, every minute, who is in charge in the continuous shaping of the world, from above and from below, from the beginning, now and forever.

A world that in turn grows, in size and population, every year up to 100.000 tons of stellar subject fall on the crust, the atmosphere or the oceans, our window to the universe, the ionosphere, almost always takes care of delivering it to us digested, solar radiation is as powerful up there as water is here, there even molecules are broken down, some of which orbit saturated or naked of electrons, thus contributing to an enigmatic dynamic whose additional contribution of subject opens a fascinating discussion.

And the population? Every year we are about 80 million souls more, almost twice the total number of Spaniards on Earth, our need for drinking water is 64 billion cubic meters more each year. The spaces of meeting however are increasingly narrower, which makes the gap between those who enjoy it and those who do not, who are the vast majority, becomes an abyss; there is already talk of water wars, another facet of its power over the human being. And of course, the same thing is happening on a local scale. In Spain we do not get along at all well with water, this explosive cyclogenesis has already cost us several lives, heavy losses, floods, landslides, flooding, thousands of incidents can be counted in recent days.

How does the population affected by floods, landslides and other demonstrations of the force of water experience these phenomena? A few years ago a study concluded that 60% of the Spanish population hit by these phenomena believe that the responsibility for the occurrence of damaging floods lies in the lack of foresight of the administrations; when it comes down to it, this lack of foresight is perceived as an inadequacy of the defense infrastructures, which makes them ineffective. It is interesting to note that the municipal and autonomous administrations are attributed twice as much responsibility as the national government. The extraordinary complexity of the Spanish legal framework on the management of water and the confusion derived from its frequent use in the sphere of political confrontations are responsible, much more than its unbalanced distribution. Only 20% believe that it is the fault of the affected inhabitants.

Spain may have to rethink many questions concerning management, coexistence and the power of water. The implementation of preventive and optimizing policies, in accordance with the environmental, geological, climatic and distribution features of the territory, are still seen as something diffuse and limiting of development economic. Post-disaster actions are much more oriented towards a demand for recovery of status equal to the previous one than towards the possibility of promoting new policies to boost future resistance and resilience. A very minority opinion, less than 10%, blames the natural conditions of the territory. It is clear that there is a lot of misinformation about water, since it is a vertical speech , if our leaders insist on their grandiloquent "definitive solutions" many people end up adopting that vision as the only possible one, one more sample of the pedagogical deficiency of our institutions and mass media; resistant and resilient solutions are not disseminated in the medium and long term deadline, the immediate, the catastrophic, is highlighted, although water has always shown that it is indifferent to immediacy.