By Estelle Shirbon
TOURISM is damaging freshwater in the Mediterranean basin and growing demand from water-guzzling golf courses, hotels and aquaparks will further strain resources, environmental group WWF warned yesterday.

A tourist staying in a hotel uses on average one third more water than a local inhabitant, while the annual consumption of a golf course is equivalent to that of a city of 12'000 inhabitants, WWF said in a report. “The tourism industry depends on water and at the moment it is destroying the very resource it needs,” Holger Schmid, of WWF's Mediterranean freshwater programme, said ahead of the report's publication.

The damage includes pollution, the shrinking of coastal wetlands that are tourist attractions as well as havens for endangered species of animals and plants, and the tapping of non-renewable groundwater in some regions.

The problem is compounded by the fact the peak summer season for tourists coincides with the period when irrigation needs are greatest in agriculture.
The total number of tourists heading for Mediterranean coastlines is expected to rise to between 235 to 355 million per year by 2025, or roughly double 1990 levels. On Spain's Costa Brava, a favourite destination for sun-deprived Britons and Germans, the population of 27 towns jumps from 150'000 in winter to 1.1 million in summer, causing water demand to surge.

In Cyprus, where water resources are already very tight, eight golf courses are under construction.
WWF said local authorities in tourist hotspots tend to tackle the booming demand for water by increasing supply, which in the long-term is not sustainable.

It said governments were pushed into ever more drastic and costly measures to get large quantities of water to arid regions, citing a 3.8-billion-euro Spanish plan to divert water from the Ebro river in the fertile north to the southeast.

The new Spanish government has just scrapped the plan, which faced fierce opposition from environmentalists and the regions that were going to lose water.

Instead, WWF said, authorities should focus on reducing demand. Installing simple, cheap devices such as water-saving taps and toilets can reduce consumption by up to 50 percent. “There will be a scarcity of water, but with a reduction of per capita consumption it wouldn't look so bleak,” said Schmid.

The report includes a long list of ways in which tourists, hotels and governments could cut water consumption, such as turning the tap off while shaving or choosing drought-resistant native plants for landscaping.

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