December to February this year saw more than double last winter’s rainfall at 141mm compared to the super low 66.8mm, but it was still way below climactic norms, according to data from the meteorological office.
A regular winter’s yield is 254.6mm (according to averages based on the 1981-2010 period), while the last two winters combined saw only 207.8mm of rain hit the island.
Annual precipitation for the last two years was also below the standard of 569.1mm, with September 2019 to August 2020 seeing 384.4mm of rainwater, while this year registering 392.9mm to date.
Of the last six annual cycles, only two reached normal targets, the remaining four recording under 70 per cent of the normal rainfall, with the driest season being 2015/2016 with a registered 319.6mm.
Malta has a semi-arid climate, defined as receiving between 250mm and 500mm of rainfall, while if precipitation falls below 250mm ,the climate is considered to be that of a desert.
Prof. Simone Borg, the chair of the Institute of Climate Change, said natural phenomena was pointing in the direction of exactly this: the country becoming a desert.
“Malta is becoming more arid and that is worrisome, especially for the natural habitats, which are very fragile,” Borg said.
“The loss of habitat is the biggest problem because humans cannot really intervene in any way to manage it. The only thing that can be done is decarbonise to mitigate the effects of climate change,” Borg continued.
Biology professor Alan Deidun also pointed out to a dry decade with dry early autumns and dry late winters becoming the norm.
The consequences of this will really be seen towards the end of the dry season in August, when the problem becomes more acute, he explained.
“The species which live in water courses, especially rock pools, will be the ones to suffer the most, and we will be able to measure the impact of the aridity on their populations as well as surrounding trees and habitat then,” he continued.
For farmers, especially for those whose crops depended on rain alone, it was also turning out to be another devastating year, pointed out Malcolm Borg, spokesperson of Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi.
The yields of crops depending on rain were very low and there were instances, especially with wheat, where there were no yields at all, he said.
Since wheat was used as fodder, farmers this year would have turn to imports to supplement low supply, which meant an increase in price, he pointed out.
“The farmers will probably be absorbing the bite themselves, rather than putting up the price of milk,” Borg explained.
Other crops like broad beans, which in some fields depended on rainwater completely, and potatoes which received supplementary irrigation, were also impacted.
Where irrigation was possible, Borg said, farmers had to depend more on it, putting additional strain on water management, another indirect effect of these parched winters.
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