CYPRUS IS turning into a concrete jungle at a faster rate than its population growth, as soil is being replaced by impermeable surfaces, or ‘soil sealing’ at a rate three times that of the EU average.
According to an EU soil quality report, Cyprus is “under enormous land use pressure”.
The report, says the rate of soil sealing on the island is “considerably faster than population growth” that the authorities have no specific measures or targets in place to tackle it:
“Between 2000 and 2006, the average increase in artificial areas in the EU was three per cent, with figures exceeding 14 per cent in Cyprus… Due to rapidly growing population and touristic infrastructure land use pressures are significant in Cyprus.”
The report adds: “Water pollution, erosion, and wildlife preservation (in Cyprus) are major environmental challenges.”
Sweden remains the greenest EU state, with an overall ‘sealed’ rate of 0.4 per cent and an “insignificant” land take, despite its growing population.
Throughout the EU, the rate of sealing has decreased from around 275 hectares per day between 1990 and 2000 to 252 hectare per day in recent years.
In other words an area the size of Cyprus has been lost to urban sprawl and transport infrastructure, leading to an irreversible loss of the ecological functions of soil.
This is a problem because it means rainwater cannot infiltrate or evaporate, leading to heavy flooding in some areas and reduced capacity for food production.
The report says: “The Commission’s Joint Research Centre estimates that four million tonnes of wheat are potentially lost every year to soil sealing.”
The report proposes a three-tiered approach to address the issue, focusing on limiting the progression of soil sealing, taking mitigation actions to reduce damage, and take compensation measures to partially offset soil losses.
In particular, the report suggests limiting the progression of soil sealing with improved spatial planning or by reassessing ”negative” subsidies that indirectly encourage soil sealing.
The report said: “Efficient protection of soils from further sealing can only be achieved by following an integrated approach, requiring the full commitment of all policy levels, by improving awareness and competence within all concerned stakeholders, by freezing counterproductive policies, by establishing clear financial incentives, and by introducing binding legal requirements.”
To mitigate the impact of soil sealing, the Commission recommends the use of permeable surfaces instead of asphalt or cement, and building green roofs.
Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik called for a more sustainable approach, saying: “We rely on soils for some fundamental ecosystem services, and without them life on our planet would grind to a halt”.
Potocnik added that this does not mean halting economic development or the upgrading of infrastructures.
Overview of best practices for limiting soil sealing or mitigating its effects in EU-27 by Gundula Prokop, Heide Jobstmann and Arnulf Schönbauer Environment Agency Austria