Andalusia struggles to fight floods as the well of public funds runs dry

Work has stopped on defenses while damage costs run to €150 million annually

Work on a project to divert the course of the Argamasilla near Écija was halted last year. / JULIÁN ROJAS (EL PAÍS)

Andalusia is facing up to the exasperating reality that there is no public money to protect against the floods that have hit various municipalities in the region over the past few weeks.

One of the worst-affected towns is Écija, in Seville province, where work to channel the Argamasilla brook has been stalled for almost a year due to lack of funds.

Just recently, flooding in the town affected 3,000 properties, 7,000 people and caused damage that would cost the local government an estimated 1.5 million euros, according to Mayor Ricardo Gil-Toresano of the Popular Party.

"The work was due to be completed in the middle of 2012," he says. But on April 23 last year the workers gathered up their gear. The Gea 21 and Ferrovial construction companies, which had temporarily teamed up to undertake the project to divert the course of the Argamasilla, budgeted at 29.9 million euros, cleared out, leaving the work 60 percent complete.

"Work was stopped because of a financial problem," admits Sergio Moreno, secretary general for environment and water in the Andalusia regional government (Junta).

According to Gil-Toresano, the companies had not been receiving payments from the regional government since September 2011. Gea 21 is now in administration. Ferrovial declined requests to offer its version of events.

Moreno hopes that Gea 21's problems will not prevent work from restarting. The Andalusian Junta has committed to renewing the project in the spring, but has not yet set a completion date. "There will be an important advancement in 2013," he says.

Moreno defends the regional administration's performance: "After the 2010 floods [when Écija was flooded seven times] the Junta did emergency work to the value of three million euros," he says. "If that had not been done, there would have been a much bigger impact this year."

Statistics over the last 500 years show that Andalusia suffers one serious flood annually. Resulting losses have risen to an average of 150 million euros a year, according to official regional government figures. Moreno admits that in the last decade the Junta has only managed to carry out 58 percent of the defense and infrastructure work envisioned in its plans, which are now being revised in order to adapt them to European regulations.

Manuel Romero, president of the Guadiana Hydrographical Confederation, which answers to the central government, is highly critical of the regional administration's actions over the last three years. It has neglected its responsibility for the Guadalquivir river basin, he says: "In June 2011, the Junta decided to dedicate 300 million euros of European funds for hydraulic works to something else."

Alongside the political spats, the Andalusian Ombudsman's office has also issued several complaints regarding floods in recent years. It has criticized the lack of prevention work, as well as scant town-planning control, which has led to the building of thousands of homes in areas at risk of flooding. This is the case in Córdoba, Jerez and Jaén, which have again been flooded this year.


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