Friday, July 27, 2012

Water - and hope - back at Salgados

Lagoa dos Salgados is almost full of water again. Masses of birds are back. There is even a glimmer of hope that the authorities are going to take care of this important wetland area at long last.
Much of the lagoon was reduced to a dried-up expanse of cracked mud before the end of the nesting season. It started to fill again only two weeks ago. It is not up to optimum level yet, but it is getting there.
More than ever because of the lack of winter and spring rainfall, the lagoon is dependent on input from the local sewage treatment plant. This has recently increased, probably because of an upsurge in tourists now that we are into the peak season.
The lagoon shares the supply from the treatment plant with the neighbouring Salgados golf course. But as yet there is no proper metering equipment, according to the Portuguese bird society, SPEA.
Allegations that the golf course was taking more than its fair share, or even illegally pumping water from the lagoon, were flatly denied by the golf course director.
It is believed that the regional hydrographical authority in the Algarve (ARH) has now applied to the ministry of the environment in Lisbon for funds, (said to be €1 million) to install a water level control system.
The idea is to keep the lagoon level constant– neither too low as in June this year, nor too high and thus flooding parts of the Salgados golf course or even polluting the nearby beaches as in August 2008. 
Such control was agreed in principle in 2008 after years of negotiations between government agencies, municipal authorities, developers and environmental bodies - but it was never implemented because no one was able or willing to cough up the money.
Hopes of proper management of the lagoon should not be raised too high. Added to the history of governmental indifference and ineptness, we now have a deepening economic crisis.
Lagoa dos Salgados badly needs both proper management and protection whether or not the highly controversial new tourist development planned for the Armação de Pera side ever gets underway.
Incidentally, it is difficult to envisage any new tourist development being built, let alone prospering, when one walks around the bankrupt existing one - the sprawling CS Herdade dos Salgados on the Albufeira side of the lagoon.
It comprises a newly built hotel and block after block after block of holiday apartments – all standing eerily empty and abandoned amid a forest of withering palm trees and gigantic weeds. What a depressing monument to the shambolic times in which we live. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Unique system to find missing children launched in Portrugal

 An innovative Anglo-Portuguese scheme to strengthen child safety and rapidly trace children who get lost or go missing has just been launched. Already it is has attracted considerable interest among parents, municipal authorities and large companies.
Based on Android smartphone and Apple iPhone technology, the scheme has been rolled out in Portugal with a view to expanding it throughout Europe and beyond.
The system is called KiSH – Kids in Safe Hands. It has been devised by an English computer expert, Steve Jones, in conjunction with the Portuguese association for missing children (APCD) and with the co-operation of the Portuguese judicial police.
Mr Jones believes the KiSH system is better than anything similar operating in the UK . He says he chose to launch in Portugal partly because of the legacy of the Madeleine McCann case, which has unfairly tainted the country’s child safety image and damaged tourism.
He is working in close association with Dr Patricia de Sousa Cipriano, a dynamic young Portuguese lawyer, mother of two and founder- president of the APCD.  Margarida Durão Barroso, wife of the president of the European Commission, is vice president of the association.
KiSH works by parents downloading an ‘app’ that allows them to enter a photograph and a description of each of their children. This data is automatically coded and registered digitally at KiSH’s global control centre based in the UK.
If a child goes missing, in whatever circumstances – from simply getting lost in a crowd to running away from home or being abducted - a parent can alert the control centre with the press of a button.
Details of the child, including a photograph, are then immediately relayed from the database control centre to security staff at the appropriate location in Portugal.
In extreme cases, such as criminal abductions, the APCD and the   judicial police may stop publication of photographs or information if displaying them publicly is deemed potentially dangerous.
Public and private venues, including shopping malls, sports stadiums and leisure facilities, are being invited to link into the system.
The Lisbon-based Benfica football club has been among the first to join. The international Auchan Group has agreed to bring the more than 40 hypermarket stores it owns in Portugal - the Jumbo and Pão de Açúcar chains - into the project. The system is expected to be introduced to lifeguards on many beaches in the Algarve and elsewhere in Portugal this summer.
Speed is of the essence in the system. If a missing child is not quickly  found by parents or  local security staff, the police in the area will be informed via the APCD.
Steve Jones emphasised that photographs of children would be held only in parents’ phones. Images would be stored in the database purely in code form and only dispensed to security agents if and when parents raise an alarm. Under no circumstances will images be issued to unauthorised personnel.
Control will always remains in the parents’ hands,” said Mr Jones.
There are more than one and three-quarter million children aged 14 or under in Portugal. The number soars when visitors arrive on holiday.
Even though Portugal is generally a safe country for children, many go missing each year, as in most other countries.  
In addition to reuniting missing children with their distraught parents, the KiSH system will help establish meaningful statistics. It will tabulate not only the numbers of children going missing and why, but also the most vulnerable times and places.
The public authorities thus will have better information on which to base policies for child safety in Portugal.
Parents can join the system by buying an iPhone app from the internet Apple store. The Android smartphone version will soon be available from the Google play website.
The annual fee for parents is €6.99, regardless of the number of children parents are registering.
For more information, please email:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Women much more at risk than men

Data just released by Gallup suggests that almost half the women in Portugal do not feel safe walking alone at night even in the vicinity of their homes.
Fewer than a quarter of men in Portugal feel unsafe in similar circumstances. Portugal thus has one of the highest gender gaps in the world in this regard.
The question posed by Gallup’s polsters: “In the city or area where you live, do you feel safe walking  alone at night or not?”
In New Zealand, only 50% of women said yes, compared to 85% of men. The gap: 35%
In the United States, 62% of women felt safe against 89% of men, showing a gap of  27%.
In Portugal the figures of 51% for women and 76% for men revealed a gap of 25% - on a par with Ireland, but worse than in the Yemen, Estonia or Slovakia.
New Zealand topped the gender gap; Portugal was equal 12th.
Worldwide, including many poor and less-developed countries, the  average figures were 62% for women and 72% for men.
Concluded Gallup: “There were double-digit gender gaps in 84 of the 143 countries studied, with broad gender disparities most common among high-income and upper middle-income countries. The implication is that as countries develop socially and economically, expectations of physical security become the norm for all citizens - but in many cases women are less likely than men to feel those expectations are being met.”

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Salgados is a matter of common sense

There still seems to be confusion about the situation at Lagoa dos Salgados. There are misconceptions about the lagoon’s vulnerability and what should be done about it.
It’s all fairly simple really.
The biggest threat is not the hotel, villa and golf complex planned for nearby. The real and present danger is that the lagoon itself is being neglected and abused.
Its future could best be assured by designating the area a SPA, a Special Protected Area.  SPAs are places of international importance for breeding, wintering and migrating birds, especially rare or endangered species. SPAs provide enhanced protection under EU law.
Portuguese government authorities have ruled this out. But another reasonably good solution has already been devised. To conserve this wetland habitat, it needs to be properly managed. This was recognised by several key national, regional, municipal and NGO bodies during years of deliberations culminating in an agreement in 2008.
Some of the parties have not abided by the agreement.
The authorities involved must overcome their indifference and ineptness. They must now get their act together. The ministry of  environment must become absolutely committed and insist on proper management and protection.
It is absurd to ignore or let such a popular and ecologically important site disintegrate. It should be coveted as a national, natural treasure.
With a carefully conserved Lagoa dos Salgados, everyone can benefit in all sort of ways - even economically, for goodness sake, as it attracts so many birdwatching tourists and enhances the region's reputation.
It’s only common sense to look after the place.


Pedro Silvestre, Director of the Salgados golf course, categorically denies that water has been taken from the lagoon, illegally or otherwise , to irrigate the course. He couldn’t use the lagoon water even if he wanted to because it is too salty, he told me today.
He said both the lagoon and the golf course were suffering this summer because of the lack of rainfall last winter and spring, coupled with a shortage of recycled water being passed on from the nearby sewage treatment plant due to the dramatic drop in tourism in the area.
Of the 3,500 cubic metres of recycled water being produced daily, only 700 cubic metres were going to the golf course, the rest to the lagoon. The water from the plant – the golf course’s sole source – was only sufficient to irrigate the tees and greens.
The rest of the water from the plant is clearly not enough to stop the lagoon level receeding.
“It’s the worst year for water I can remember since the course was built in 1994,” said Mr Silvestre.

It goes without saying that the Algarve does not need any more hotels or golf courses. The Praia Grande / Salgados complex will be yet another major blight on the Algarve’s coastline - if and when it goes ahead that is. But in the Lagoa dos Salgados context, it’s not the main problem, provided the already agreed plan is stuck to.
The development was planned years ago. After SPEA, the RSPB, ALMARGEM and others all had their say, the building density was more than halved and a buffer zone inserted between the development and the lagoon.
Before final approval in 2007, there was an opportunity for the public to air opposition. There was no public outcry then. There’s plenty now, but it may be a tad too late.
Public opposition to the ruination of the natural environment along much of the Algarve’s coastline has been muted for decades.
A quote from my ebook People in a Place Apart:

As tourism and the associated construction industry replaced unprofitable farming and unsustainable fishing as the major economic activities, the Algarve was up for grabs. Outsiders moved in big time. Investors and builders - sometimes aided and abetted by incompetent or corrupt local lawyers and politicians - engaged in a frenzy of development, often at the expense of wetlands and other natural habitats. The Portuguese said they would never allow the sort of crass over-development that had occurred along the coast of southern Spain – but did just that, albeit it on a lesser scale.
Standards of living for the Portuguese people in general improved so much and so quickly that few bothered to seriously reflect on what was happening to large areas of their precious environment. By the time organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund, Quercus, and many smaller groups and individuals were able to make their voices heard, bad planning and the misuse of European funding had led to some disastrous decisions. Parts of the ecosystem had suffered irreparable damage with many species being pushed to the verge of extinction.