Drought: Italy warns of a third of agricultural production

ROME (AP) — Italy’s agriculture minister warned parliament on Wednesday that a third of Italy’s agricultural production was at risk due to drought and poor water infrastructure, and that the situation would only get worse. in the years to come.

Stefano Patuanelli provided the latest data from government research institutes which showed that Italy lost 19% of its available water resources from 1991-2020 compared to 1921-1950, and that the next few decades could see further declines up to 40%.

“We are thus witnessing a slow but relentless waste of water availability in our country,” Patuanelli told the Lower House of Deputies.

The government has declared a state of emergency in several northern regions due to a prolonged drought and a heat wave that dried up the Po River, a crucial artery for irrigation in a central-northern region. of Italy which is a key producer of fruits, vegetables and cereals.

The drought followed unusually light rainfall during the winter that robbed the mountains of the fresh snowfall that normally fed rivers and reservoirs in the summer. The combined climatic events were blamed for the July 3 split of the melting Marmolada glacier and the subsequent avalanche that killed 11 hikers in northern Trento.

Patuanelli told lawmakers such droughts occur cyclically in Italy, roughly every five years, but are expected to happen more often and “with ever more devastating consequences.”

He said the Po River basin is currently the greatest concern “because the area concerns a third of national agricultural production”.

“We talk about the cultivation of fruits, vegetables, tomatoes and cereals, especially corn and rice,” as well as the cattle farms that produce the region’s famous parmesan and prosciutto.

Italian farm lobby Coldiretti said the emergency had already cost Italian farmers around 3 billion euros in losses, associated with soaring energy prices resulting from Russia’s war in Ukraine.

While unusual heat and lack of rainfall are driving the current crisis, Italy has a notoriously wasted water infrastructure which national statistics agency ISTAT says loses 42% of drinking water. distribution networks each year, largely due to old and poorly maintained pipes. .