Drought of 1991-1995


Drought Event Summary

The period between 1991 and 1992 was characterized by frequent and prolonged droughts across the Mediterranean, both in the Iberian peninsula and the western Mediterranean. Sheffield and Wood (2011) note that "The period from 1992 to 1995 was one of the driest in the century for the Iberian Peninsula, and especially for Spain."

Several peaks occurred during this time, with the most intense between 1994 and 1995.

Drought Statistics

Approx. duration: 2/1992-10/1994

Date of SPI-6 min: 11/6/1993

Date of hydrological min: 5/5/1993

Affected regions: Mediterranean

Climatological Drought

The entire period between 1991 and 1995 was characterized by a lack of precipitation in southern Europe. The first significant deficit occurred during the spring of 1992, covering Spain, Portugal and France in the west and southern Italy, Greece, and the Balkans in the eastern Mediterranean. By late summer of 1992, these regions had recovered to normal conditions.

The summer of 1993 also had significant rainfall deficits in southern Europe.

The summer of 1994 was also characterized by a lack of rainfall, particularly for Spain and Portugal.

Progression of climatological (SPI-6) drought. Climatological drought is defined by the SPI-6, which sums precipitation over the previous 6 months and transforms this value to the standard normal distribution. Negative SPI values (shown in red) represent dry conditions, measured in standard deviations from typical conditions. Percent area in drought is calculated by summing all cells less than the 20th percentile (SPI < -0.84).

Hydrological Drought



Peak hydrological drought. with Hydrological drought is based on output nine large-scale hydrological models. Viewed spatially (above), areas with runoff below the 10th and 20th percentiles are shown in red and orange, respectively.

Drought Impacts

The severe drought episode in the early 1990s (peaking in 1995) affected nearly the whole Iberian Peninsula but had by far the largest social impact in its Southern part, i.e. in the Guadalquivir basin in Andalusia and in the Portuguese Alentejo region. Millions of domestic consumers in the South-Western corner of Spain including especially urban areas such as those of Seville, Cadiz and Palma di Mallorca suffered water cuts and water quality problems. In autumn of 1995, just before the abrupt end of the drought event, 15% of the Spanish population was experiencing water shortages and another 15% was facing reduced water supply (Garrido & Gómez-Ramos, 2000; Llamas, 2000; Mestre, 2010). Also most municipalities located in the Alentejo region of Portugal experienced reduced water supply and interruptions for more than 12 hours a day (Santos, 1998 in Massarutto et al., 2013). Overall the water shortage situation led to conflicts. In particular water transfers and general management issues in the transboundary basin of the Tagus river initiated renewed “water hostilities” between several Spanish Autonomous Communities, but were also again the cause of political tension between Spain and Portugal (Llamas, 2000; see also López-Moreno et al., 2009). In 2000 a new bilateral agreement (termed Albufeira Convention) regulating the management of waters shared by both Iberian countries came into force.

Location of drought impact reports. Darker colors refer to more reported impacts in the EDII. Scroll over each country to see more detail.

A large part of economic losses due to the drought is attributable to agricultural damage which affected both, rain-fed and irrigated farming, but losses were far more remarkable in the latter one and especially dramatic in the case of the Guadalquivir basin (Garrido & Gómez-Ramos, 2000; Iglesias et al., 2003): here, where normally irrigation had counted for 75% of gross regional water use, about 500 000 ha of irrigated land were affected by water shortages, in fact virtually no water was available for irrigation allotments during the growing seasons of 1994 and 1995. This resulted in total economic losses over 3 billion Euros according to farmers’ representatives. Further 20,000 jobs were lost in agriculture due to the fallowing of the irrigated area (EMASESA, 1997 in Iglesias, 2003). Generally, across Spain strong restrictions had to be placed on irrigation during the drought period resulting in significant decreases in the total national production of corn, cotton and rice and from 1994 onwards permanent crops, i.e. vineyards, olives and citrus fruits were increasingly affected as well (Mestre, 2010). Within Portugal horticulture throughout the Algarve region was particularly hit (Massarutto et al., 2013). In both countries hydropower production was notably reduced during the drought. According to EC (2007) Spain estimated the incurred costs in the agriculture and the energy production sector at about 1,800 and 210 million, respectively (period 1990-95), while Portugal reported costs of 241 million Euros in agriculture and costs of 426 million Euros for energy production. According to EurAqua (2004) the minimum economic costs of the drought in Spain were 3,700 million Euros. The international disaster database EM-DAT registered the drought disaster in Spain with an estimated damage of 4,500 billion US Dollars.

The situation in 1992 had forced the Spanish Authorities to adopt a set of emergency measures which aimed at reducing water consumption and exploitation of new water resources by providing extraordinary credits as well as (simultaneously) mitigating the drought effects on the agricultural sector (Mestre, 2010); according to Llamas (2000) the total cost of these various emergency measures to the Spanish treasury amounted to about 600 million Euros. Structural measures, which were financially promoted and contracts awarded following urgent procedure during the drought, included desalination plants, well drillings and water carriers. However, apparently hardly any of these projects began to supply water before the end of the drought (Garrido & Gómez-Ramos, 2000). In consequence of the severe restrictions in the supply of Seville a plan for building a new dam had emerged which became an extremely controversial issue once the drought finished (Garrido & Gómez-Ramos, 2000). Also the National Water Authority of Portugal had decided to construct a new reservoir in the Alentejo region (completed in 1999).

Regarding the impact the drought had on ecosystems and habitats there is little quantitative documentation (through detailed surveys etc.) available, yet increased mortality was observed for fish in dam reservoirs and birds in the interior wetlands. The water shortage situation especially in agricultural production led to strongly increased exploitation of groundwater resources, thus overexploitation resulted in saltwater intrusion in coastal aquifers in the South East and adverse effects on wetlands in the Centre of Spain (Mestre, 2010). Besides a significant increase of forest fires, the prolonged drought damaged the forested areas in Southern and Central Spain (Peñuelas et al., 2001; Mestre, 2010; Carnicer et al., 2011).

Impact Detail Table

Drought Event Country Start Date End Date Impact Impact Category Impact Description NUTS 1 NUTS 2 NUTS 3 Reference
1990 South-Eastern Europe Magyarország 4/1991 9.1 Increased mortality of aquatic species (specify species (latin term) and state whether a rare/endangered/protected species is concerned in the description field) Fish mortality in the backwater of the Danube in Tolna Dunántúl; Dél-Dunántúl; Tolna;