New wave of drought hitting northern Italy

Mon, 27 Feb 2023 8:46 GMT
Lack of water in the rivers, major lakes less than half of their capacity; agriculture sector is at risk and farmers are very concerned.
New wave of drought hitting northern Italy

Drought is again affecting northern Italy and the Po Valley, where half of the national livestock breeding is concentrated. The Po River, the longest in Italy with its 652 km (373 miles) length, in some points had reached a negative level picks up to minus 4.5 meters, with the banks reduced to sandy beaches as in summer.

The large lakes are also suffering: according to the Consortium Enti Regolatori dei Grandi Laghi, an official body that collects data on the water filling, Lake Garda has a 35,7% fill rate, Lake Maggiore 38%, Lake Como 19,4%.

The scenario is similar to the one of last July when Italy experienced one of the most serious hydric crises in years. At Ponte delle Barche, a suspension bridge over the Ticino river that originates in the Swiss canton of the same name, only a few of the boats of the bridge are wet and touched by water. The rest are lying on dry stones. The situation is no different further down the river at the confluence of the Ticino and the Po. Here, the emerged sand islands in the middle of the river bed are getting bigger and bigger and are now covered by dense vegetation and tall trees.

Farmers are very concerned: the Coldiretti, the most prominent and major Italian association of farmers, declared that crops – especially rice - will suffer a reduction.

"The filling figures of the lakes are worrying when we compare their level today to that of February last year. The situation is now worse than the one of last year when the entire Italian agricultural sector had lost €6 billion (€500 million of those in Lombardy) in crops due to the drought. In case this will be repeated, it would not be bearable for the companies," says Luigi Simonazzi of Coldiretti, adding that "almost 8 thousand hectares of rice will be grown less according to the latest sowing forecasts, with a significant impact on the production of food in Italy. With the Po running dry," he points out, "at risk is 1/3 of the Made in Italy food that is produced precisely of the Po Valley".

It is a situation that farmers like Fabio Camisani know very well. Together with his family, he has been cultivating mainly rice for several decades in Gaggiano, Italy's highest rice-producing district.

"We are in a drought situation: the fields, which should be wet at this time of year, are completely dry with sand instead of soil," he says, picking up some clods of soil from a field he tried to plough in the previous days.

Last year, Camisani's company lost 250 tonnes of rice, however, they managed to stay afloat with enormous sacrifices.

"This year, we won't even sow rice if it goes on like this. And there is also another problem: since rice production decreased last year due to the drought, the cost of seeds has recently increased by three times as everything else did. I have booked it but have not ordered it yet. I'm waiting for the weather to develop and hoping there will be water; otherwise, I will have to change crops."

Legambiente, the most widespread environmental association in Italy, is also worried about the lack of snow, which is 53% less in the Alpine arc so far. In the past few days, it had launched an appeal to the Meloni government, indicating the priorities to be put in place, starting with the definition of a national water strategy that encourages controlled recharging of the water stratum.

For Legambiente, the implementation of the reuse of purified wastewater in agriculture through the necessary regulatory changes and the reconversion of the agricultural sector towards less water-demanding crops and more efficient irrigation methods are also crucial.

"No more delays are allowed. We must start by preventing the water emergency," the association writes in a public statement.


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