In Spain they pray for rain

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While flood waters inundate northern Europe, Spain is suffering one of the worst droughts this century, bringing despair and ruin to Andalucian farmers and economic catastrophe to the snow-free ski resorts of the Sierra Nevada.

The drought that has afflicted the southern half of Spain since 1991 has caused water shortages for more than 2 million Andalucians - one in four inhabitants of the region - and Andalucian farmers, who have reaped poor harvests for three years running, reckon they lost 200bn pesetas (£950m) last year because of the drought.

Rainfall in recent years has reached less than half the usual levels. Near Valencia, farmers are reopening 1,000-year-old Moorish wells, while in the south reservoirs will dry up by summer unless it rains soon. Some 800,000 people in the south-western province of Cadiz have water restricted for up to 10 hours a day.

The economic damage has been enormous, in a region that is one of the poorest in Spain. The drying out to desert of formerly fertile land costs 30bn pesetas a year. The cancellation last week of the world Alpine skiing championship due to take place in the Sierra Nevada - "snowy mountains" - has cost the resort more than 1.5bn pesetas, as well as 160bn pesetas the region had expected in grants.

In the little village of Monachil at the heart of the skiing area, the Communist mayor organised a procession of 1,500 villagers who carried a gilded image of the village's patron, St Anthony, and prayed for rain, but to no avail.

Ideas to overcome the water-shortage problem include increasing water rates, digging new wells, supplying mobile reservoirs, and even a desalination plant on the Cadiz coast.