Dried up rivers, threatened crops, rationed water... Northern Italy, placed in a state of climate emergency, is facing a historic drought due to the lack of rain, but also to aging infrastructure and underinvestment.
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“I have never seen such a prolonged drought. The situation is dramatic. If the water problem persists, my harvest risks being 100% devastated,” fears Gianluigi Tacchini, a rice farmer from the town of Santa Cristina e Bissone, about forty kilometers south of Milan.
Already in the spring, the drought was looming, because "there was no snow on the mountains and the lakes lacked water", which led him to reduce his rice cultivation by 50% and increase that of sunflowers, less dependent on irrigation. Forced to make choices, he sacrificed a cornfield.
Water supplies from Lake Como "have been reduced by 75% and we have no prospect, they could completely stop if its water level drops further", Mr. Tacchini told the official. AFP.
The rice fields, which are very water-intensive, could see their production reduced by 30% this year, according to calculations by the agricultural union Coldiretti.
In the Po delta, between Venice and San Marino (east), the low water level of the river is so low that the water of the Adriatic Sea rises up to 30 kilometers inland, a historic record.
In places, the Po Observatory noted a level of seven meters lower than its usual level.
Since May, the Italian peninsula has been facing an exceptionally early wave of heat accompanied by a lack of rainfall, particularly in the agricultural plain of the Po, hit by its worst drought in 70 years.
On Monday, the government declared a state of emergency in five regions (Emilia-Romagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Lombardy, Veneto and Piedmont), four of which are watered by the Po, and announced the release of an extraordinary fund of 36.5 million euros to deal with the drought.
Faced with the drop in the level of the Po, the largest water reservoir on the peninsula, much of which is used by farmers, several municipalities have announced restriction measures: Verona, a city of a quarter of a million inhabitants, has thus rationed the use of drinking water, while Milan has decided to close its decorative fountains.
According to the Coldiretti union, the drought threatens more than 30% of national agricultural production and half of the farms in the Po plain, where Parma ham is produced in particular.
"Over the period January-May, 44% less precipitation fell on the national territory, which is unprecedented since the end of the 1950s", underlines Francesco Cioffi, associate professor in the department of hydrology at the university. La Sapienza in Rome.
"The absence of an effective policy for the management of water resources in recent years" worsens the situation, he believes to AFP, pleading in favor of "an extraordinary plan to modernize the water system , the development of forecasting tools”.
According to the latest data from the National Institute of Statistics Istat made public in 2020, 36% of water reserves in Italy are lost each year due to the dilapidated network of pipes and storage. This figure even rises to more than 70% for the city of Chieti, the capital of Abruzzo, on the Adriatic coast.
According to Francesco Cioffi, this high rate of waste is explained by “the lack of sufficient funding to modernize networks, often decades old, and by often fragmented and inadequate management”. "It would have been necessary to invest more and better to make the national territory and the economic and social system of the country less vulnerable to these events", he believes.
He considers it urgent to implement "saving measures, for example in agriculture, through the introduction of more efficient irrigation techniques, the recycling of water used in industry, the separation of drinking water, water intended for other uses and the recovery of rainwater at the scale of individual buildings”.
Another consequence of the drought: the production of hydroelectric energy has fallen sharply, while hydroelectric installations, located for the most part in the mountainous massifs of northern Italy, produce almost 20% of the energy in this country.