Large part of Italy in emergency due to worst drought in 70 years

Google your pictures of the Po, Italy‘s longest river, and you’ll see a wide stream surrounded by a green oasis. But at the moment, the river, which has to supply water to almost all of northern Italy, is almost dry. The Arno, which flows through Florence, and the Tiber in Rome are also considerably lower than usual.

The worst drought in seventy years has enormous consequences for agriculture, for citizens and for nature. The government has approved applications from five regions to call for a state of emergency: Emilia-Romagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Lombardy, Piedmont and Veneto. As a result, there will be more opportunities to take measures and compensate victims.

Po is dry

The main concerns are about the drought in the valley around the Po, which runs from the Alps in the west to Venice in the east. Because there was little snow in the mountains last winter, the melt water supply dried up much faster than usual. In addition, it rained little in the spring. The water level of the Po is now 80 percent lower than usual at the beginning of summer.

Without a

doubt, that means a serious blow to the Italian economy. In the otherwise fertile Po Valley, more than half of Italian agriculture is practiced, accounting for 40 percent of gross domestic product. Not only crops such as wheat, rice and corn depend on the river, but also products such as Parma ham and Parmesan cheese. Three-quarters of the vongole shells are harvested for the European market in the delta of the Po. These, too, grow less rapidly due to the drought.

Now that the government has approved the state of emergency demand, money is released to compensate farmers for their losses. According to agricultural organization Coldiretti, this is necessary to save more than 270,000 companies. The organization estimates that there is already about 3 billion euros in damage.

Restricted water use

Not just farmers; everyone in northern Italy is facing the drought. More than a hundred municipalities in the north have already imposed restrictions on the use of drinking water. Capital Rome decided to lower the water pressure. Under the state of emergency, regions can take action on an even larger scale.

For the time being, tourists in affected areas do not have any specific restrictions. However, the regions of Lombardy, Piedmont, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna are considering rationing water. This would mean that drinking water should only be used for essential activities and, for example, not to fill swimming pools. Water amusement parks close to the coast are advised to use filtered seawater. Others may need to close the doors.

Drought Extraordinary Commissioner

In addition to approving the state of emergency, the government is also launching a national emergency plan to deal with the drought. โ€œThe Council of Ministers will make important and courageous decisions,โ€ announced regional minister Mariastella Gelmini in advance. For example, there will be an โ€œextraordinary commissioner for the droughtโ€. It will be appointed until 2024 to ensure that the country is better prepared for crises in the future.

The Commissioner must not only limit water consumption in Italy, but also make the water network more efficient. Nationwide, at the moment, only 10 percent of the precipitation is stored and deployed during dry periods. Because the water network is old in many places, more than 30 percent of the available drinking water leaks out before it reaches the tap. The government allocates 1.38 billion to address that problem.

For the current crisis, these measures come too late. In the coming months, it is not expected that there will be enough rainfall to turn the tide.