Northern Italy's Drought Continues to Worsen

Farmers’ associations estimate that crop yields will be significantly impacted as local authorities put limits on the amount of water available for irrigation.
Ostiglia, Italy
By Paolo DeAndreis
Jun. 22, 2022 16:41 UTC

An ongo­ing drought in north­ern Italy con­tin­ues to get worse and exac­er­bate the water scarcity issue fac­ing the region’s pop­u­la­tion cen­ters and agri­cul­ture.

In many areas of the Po Valley, rain has not fallen for more than 110 days, and the moun­tain water reserves have dried up quickly after an extremely dry win­ter lead­ing to a lack of snow­pack.

We are liv­ing through one of the worst droughts ever. At this time, we need clar­ity and coor­di­nated action.- Alberto Brivio, pres­i­dent, Coldiretti Bergamo

The com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors means the main river lev­els have fallen to a his­toric low. Local author­i­ties esti­mated that the Po River has dropped to its low­est lev­els in the last 70 years, with mas­sive con­se­quences on local agri­cul­ture.

The river is the back­bone of Italy’s north­ern agri­cul­tural regions, con­sid­ered the most sig­nif­i­cant in the whole coun­try for sta­ple food pro­duc­tion.

See Also:U.N. Developing Olive Groves and Mills in Drought-Prone Areas of Iraq

As the fresh­wa­ter lev­els in the Po River drop, more salt water from the Adriatic Sea enters the river, neg­a­tively impact­ing local plants and ani­mals reliant on the river. Similar phe­nom­ena are occur­ring in other rivers in the region too.

As sev­eral aquifers and wells dry up, large areas are expe­ri­enc­ing extreme water short­ages. Some res­i­dents of Piedmont and Lombardy may soon face night­time bans on water use rec­om­mended by the local util­ity.

Dozens of other loca­tions have water sup­plies deliv­ered from else­where, and in the Ferrara area of Emilia-Romagna, author­i­ties asked 250,000 peo­ple to use as lit­tle water as pos­si­ble.

The cur­rent drought has also been exac­er­bated by many days of high tem­per­a­tures, which are expected to rise fur­ther in the fol­low­ing weeks.

The sit­u­a­tion is get­ting dra­mat­i­cally worse because we have low lev­els and no rain­fall, and to that, two more fac­tors must be added,” said Meuccio Berselli, the sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the Po Water Authority. We have a tem­per­a­ture which is 2 ºC or 3 ºC higher than aver­age, in some areas even 4 ºC more. And that hap­pens in a sea­son with no snow­pack.”

With the excep­tion of Lake Garda, whose lev­els are still con­sid­ered suf­fi­cient, every other lake in the region has also seen its water lev­els drop to his­toric lows, which has led author­i­ties to limit the amount of water for irri­ga­tion. However, farm­ers’ asso­ci­a­tions have opposed this move.

As a result of water rationing, many farm­ers expect reduced crop yields this year. The farm­ers’ asso­ci­a­tion, Coldiretti Bergamo, warned that a dras­tic drop in yields is expected in bar­ley, wheat, fod­der and corn. As tem­per­a­tures rise, the asso­ci­a­tion wrote, the sit­u­a­tion will become even more dif­fi­cult.

According to Coldiretti, 2022 has seen half the rain­fall of the aver­age of the last few years. To cope with the ris­ing tem­per­a­tures and farm­ing water needs, Coldiretti asked for the inter­ven­tion of the reser­voirs and lakes author­i­ties.

The moment is com­plex and dif­fi­cult on sev­eral fronts, but you have to act imme­di­ately, putting into prac­tice every­thing you can,” said Alberto Brivio, Coldiretti Bergamo’s pres­i­dent. We are liv­ing through one of the worst droughts ever. At this time, we need clar­ity and coor­di­nated action.”

According to Coldiretti, the bar­ley yields are already down by 30 per­cent, and many more crops are com­pro­mised as farm­ers strug­gle to access suf­fi­cient water to irri­gate.

If there is no water, we can not guar­an­tee [locally-pro­duced] food to our cit­i­zens,” Brivio said, warn­ing that the war in Ukraine and result­ing global food price increases would also be exac­er­bated by the sit­u­a­tion.

Coldiretti esti­mated that the drought has already caused €1 bil­lion in dam­ages in the whole coun­try due to reduced yields. In addi­tion, half of the live­stock and more than 30 per­cent of Italian food pro­duc­tion is at risk, Coldiretti warned.


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