Drought conditions are rapidly spreading through Italy, with rivers and reservoirs drying up and the forecast of higher temperatures likely to make things worse, the country’s irrigation authority warned on Thursday. Several Italian regions have already declared a state of emergency, looking to free up funds to counter the growing water crisis, while farming associations say the agricultural output is set to plunge this year in key growing areas.
“A combination of the worst drought in recent years and temperatures … touching 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) at the end of June, are leading Italy towards a dramatic environmental and economic situation,” the ANBI irrigation body said.
Italy’s longest river, the Po, which crosses the major northern regions and accounts for around a third of the country’s agricultural production, is experiencing its worst drought in 70 years.
“The Po continues to record an Epoque-making low along its entire course,” ANBI said. “The flow rate has halved in two weeks, dropping to just over 170 cubic meters per second,” it said, adding that the rate needed to be at 450 cm/s to prevent salt water from entering from the sea and wrecking farmland.
ANBI said the major northern lakes were already below, or close to record lows, with the level of natural reservoirs in central Italy also plunging. The Tiber river is at multi-year lows while the flow rate of the Aniene river has halved.
The Lazio region centered on Rome declared a state of emergency this week, imposing restrictions in some communities, including bans on hosepipe usage and filling swimming pools.
A project funded by the European Space Agency said on Thursday that weeks of hot weather had raised the surface temperature of the Mediterranean by about 4C above the 1985-2005 average.
“Understanding what exactly is happening to the current climate is increasingly important because the changes are starting to have a concrete impact on everyday life,” said Gianmaria Sannino, head of the ENEA Climate Modelling which took part in the project.
The weather forecast for the rest of the month is adding to the concern, with temperatures expected to be 10C-12C above normal next week, with peaks of up to 44C expected on the islands of Sardinia and Sicily.