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Italy struck by drought, in the grip of a heatwave

by Annamaria Capparelli

Italy is in the grip of a heatwave, and the health ministry has indicated that 10 cities are facing emergency temperature levels over the weekend. The alarm was raised for Bologna, Bolzano, Brescia, Perugia and Turin for Saturday, and Ancona, Campobasso, Florence, Perugia and Pescara for Sunday.

Meanwhile the country is counting the damage caused by drought: the farm sector risks paying a high price for the umpteenth hot summer and lacking irrigation infrastructure, especially in the North. Farming association Coldiretti has estimated damage from bad weather, aggravated now by the drought, at more than €1 billion. The Council of Ministers has declared a state of emergency for the provinces of Parma and Piacenza, and has set aside €8 million and €650,000. But Tuscany, Sardinia and Veneto are also facing critical situations and are asking for the same measure.

Emilia Romagna, where 35% of “Made in Italy” farm and food production is concentrated (40% of Dop and Igp certified exports) is among the worst-hit regions. Simona Caselli, agriculture councillor for the region, is assessing what measures to take to avoid the loss of the tomato harvest, which would have significant effects on employment. There is concern also for forage which risks a decline of 50-70%, with an impact expected on the production of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Emergency wells will be used, but the region’s farmers’ advanced water saving systems in the “Israeli model” are a positive element.

The drought has all the country from the North to the South in its dangerous grip. The cities are responding with restrictions: in Rome, Mayor Virginia Raggi has told residents to limit water use for gardens, swimming pools and washing cars over the summer months.

According to water and irrigation sector association ANBI, the availability of water is running low. In the North, it has halved compared to 2016, with an emergency situation for Emilia Romagna where it has fallen to 5 million cubic meters versus 18 million last year. And Lombardy and Veneto are not doing any better: Lake Garda is only 49.7% full. Lake Como is also under its historical average, while the mountain dams are holding about 20% of their capacity, which is completely insufficient to sustain irrigation needs. In the South, the regions of Calabria, Campania and Basilicata are suffering. There are also critical spots in Sicily and Sardinia, where in particular the Gallura area is facing a conflict between tourism and agriculture.

Saving farming produce is a categorical imperative. According to analysis by Coldiretti, the heat has already cut 20% of milk production in Lombardy. Cereals, vegetables, fruit and tomatoes are facing difficulties. Vineyards are also at risk. In Basilicata, apricot production is all arriving at the same time and combined with the imports of foreign fruit that is leading to a collapse in the prices paid to farmers. In Sardinia, they estimate falls of around 40% for crops and livestock. In Tuscany, forage for livestock is running low, and honey production is collapsing. In Campania, there are also problems for buffalo mozzarella. In Puglia, between Foggia and Bari, a 50% fall in wheat production is feared. The Friuli region has declared a water hardship situation to guarantee there is enough for farm cultivation in the plain.

And with the heat the risk of fire, starting from the region of Piedmont, is extremely high.