Italy is struggling with water shortages in a very hot summer. The consequences for people and nature are extreme – and could last for a long time.
The situation is getting more and more tense. It has not rained in some parts of Italy for almost 120 days, at the same time the country is struggling with a heat wave that regularly measures 40 degrees. The resulting drought is becoming a serious problem. And despite extreme measures, the consequences are likely to be felt for a long time to come.
The biggest indication of the extent of the drought is the Po. The largest river in Italy, which runs 650 kilometers across the country from the Laggio Maggiore, only carries a fifth of its other water masses. And this despite the fact that Italy is already pumping water in from Lake Garda to keep the current going. Compared to its other proportions, the remaining river in its bed looks like a trickle.
Extreme drought in Italy
The ongoing drought has dramatic consequences for people. Because of the heat, politicians are already recommending not to be outside between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. The first regions have already started to ration water. In Verona, until August 31st, you can only use the water during the day for eating, personal hygiene and cleaning the household. Other uses such as washing cars, watering the garden or filling a swimming pool are prohibited between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. And even at night, the government is asking you to do without it.
The measures are also necessary because Italy used to be very wasteful with its water. Because reservoirs and infrastructure have not been adequately maintained, a lot of water is lost in transit across the country, Prime Minister Mario Draghi admitted. In any case, the water consumption of the Italians was well above the European average: the average citizen there used 215 liters of water every day, and the average across Europe is 125 liters. However, consumption does not only refer to private households, but also includes economic use in industry and agriculture.
agriculture in crisis
The latter suffers particularly from the drought. Experts estimate that 30 percent of the harvest has already been lost in Tuscany alone. In the Po Valley, almost half of the water consumed is used to grow agricultural products. The region is one of the main growing areas for rice in Europe, like the also widespread wine and corn, it is a comparatively extremely water-intensive agricultural product. The famous Parmesan cheese also comes from the region. And is dependent on the water of the Po due to the cow attitude.
Each of his 300 cows has to drink 100 to 150 liters of water every day, farmer Simone Minelli reports to “CNN”. Otherwise they would overheat and not be able to provide the 30 liters of high-quality milk he needs to produce his parmesan. If the quality of the milk is not right, the cheese suffers too – and does not receive the seal of quality that is so important for sales. An even bigger problem, however, is fodder cultivation: the soybeans grown for this purpose suffer from heat and lack of water, he explains. “If we don’t have enough feed, we will have to reduce the stocks,” he complains.
Long-term consequences to be feared
The consequences of the drought could be felt for a long time. In recent years, the Po has increasingly lost water. Because the snowfall and rainfall in the Alps decreased, there was no spring swell in the river caused by the thaw. “The last time the river was that deep was in 2003,” Ada Giorgi of the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium told CNN. “But this time it’s much, much worse. The lack of rain, snow and high temperatures create a perfect storm. We are in an extreme crisis.”
The long-term consequences of the water level in the Po could be felt for a long time. Because the river is currently below sea level, the waters of the Mediterranean Sea are increasingly entering the estuary. The salt water is said to have penetrated up to 30 kilometers inland. And slowly salinizing the groundwater.
Sources: CNN, NTV, National Geographic