Unprecedented drought in Italy sparks fears about future

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By Giorgia Orlandi  & Rosa Isabella Jewell
A woman stands on the Po riverbed next to Ponte della Becca (Becca bridge) in Linarolo, near Pavia, Italy, Monday, June 27, 2022
A woman stands on the Po riverbed next to Ponte della Becca (Becca bridge) in Linarolo, near Pavia, Italy, Monday, June 27, 2022   -  Copyright  Luca Bruno/AP Photo

One of the longest rivers in Italy, the Po, is facing an unprecedented drought which has left its banks almost dry. 

Just six months ago, the cracked pieces of earth now visible in Borretto were hidden by metres of fast-running water, something which is concerning climate activists, rice farmers and people who live along the Po. 

Rainfall has been minimal over the past summer months, which, combined with rising temperatures, has led to the drying out of many parts of Southern Europe. 

Environmental engineer for the Po River Basin Authority, Marco Gardella, said: “Since last November the amount of precipitation has decreased by half and the amount of snow has decreased by 70%. 

“This has prevented lakes from being filled. Something that is crucial to sustaining the river flow.”

This recent drought has caused serious problems for the region.

The river accounts for nearly a third of Italy's agricultural production, so the drought has had a knock-on effect on the whole sector, and water restrictions have been introduced in over a hundred municipalities in the region of Emilia-Romagna.

Hundreds of thousands of people living there are also feeling the effects.

Many of them use the water for domestic use, which is becoming increasingly difficult as a result of the growing flow of seawater into the river. 

Minutes away from the river, the mayor of the small town of Fontanellato has switched off the main fountain and asked citizens to reduce their water consumption. 

Luigi Spinazzi said that this move “carries an important message” given how unusual it is. 

He added: “It’s the first time this has happened, and it's going to be like this 24/7 to strengthen the warning. This year in particular everyone has to be aware of the fact that water is a resource that we all have to care about.”

Limiting the quantity of water used is one of the solutions, but many argue that it is not drastic enough in this race against time. 

Meuccio Berselli, General Secretary of the Po River Basin Authority, said: “We have to accelerate the green transition process.

“It’s something we should not debate anymore, everyone knows it exists. 

“Next year could be even worse as our research tells us temperatures are set to increase and droughts like this latest one could potentially last longer than usual”.