Orange dust is washed off Malaga's lighthouse. / SUR

Whitewashed villages

The cleaning of white walls turned brown by the Saharan dust will reduce not only the budgets of municipalities, but our water resources too


Traditional picturesque 'white villages' of Andalucía don't mark the landscape like snowflakes anymore, but more like yellowish chanterelles. After the sandstorm (calima) swept across Andalucía, dumping Saharan dust in its wake, thousands of buildings are now stained with a cinnamon-coloured blanket. Some town halls have already arranged workers to clean up façades. Home owners have also started to try to bring their houses back to their former white brilliance. But, but... the restoration of the white walls will reduce not only the budgets of municipalities, but our water resources too.

Last week, while walking through Maro, I had to jump over a stream of water cascading down the street. I was greeted in English by an elderly lady who, with a garden hose, was attempting to remove the dust out of the crevices of her house's façade and the old paintwork. (It needed a lot of effort as well as a lot of water which was streaming down the streets.)

The old saying 'Pain is beauty and beauty is pain' immediately occurred to me. And pain for that excessive water usage is expected later, when we will really feel the lack of water. The local reservoirs have just filled thanks to March rainfalls, but it is not enough: reports say they are only at about one third of their capacity.

All this means that now we have a new dilemma - to live in white houses or to survive with enough water for the approaching dry season. This is in addition to the annual dilemma that we face in Andalucía: healthy fruit and vegetables versus wealth from tourists and their consumption of water. These dilemmas have been caused by local agro-industry and mass tourism - two excessively powerful economic sectors.

I have just returned from Cadiz province where Doñana, the most prestigious wetland in Andalucía and in the entire area, is under threat due to the increasing water demand or rather, its theft. It turns out that in many cases, wells are dug for irrigation of crops without the necessary licences.

So, water and life are really inextricably intertwined, in different meanings. The meaning of the upcoming Earth Day (20 April) is, among others, to activate everyone - governments, citizens, and businesses - to do their part. We should not await decisions and agreements of governments and businesses, and individuals should start doing their best to save water and thereby invest in our planet.

I have noticed that, being frightened by real water shortages, most of us have already started to be cautious about water use and have changed our habits to reflect this. So now we have to ask ourselves if we are ready to live in our houses, albeit with dirty façades.