AFPThe island of San Biago can be reached on foot
NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 07:43
The images were often shared by the Italian media in recent days: tourists walking on the bottom of Lake Garda. They walk to San Biagio, an island in the lake that is generally only accessible by boat. But because the water is now 60 centimeters lower than normal, it can also be reached on foot via a sandbank.
It’s nice for the photos, but otherwise very worrying. “I can’t remember when the lake level was ever this low in February,” the mayor of Garda sighed. The Italian government is holding emergency consultations today about the drought, which threatens to have devastating consequences, especially in northern Italy, for the second year in a row.
High temperatures and little snow
The Po Valley, the area in northern Italy around the river Po, was already hit by the worst drought in seventy years last year. Due to a lack of snow last winter, combined with above-average temperatures and a lack of precipitation, Italy’s longest river was at a historic low for months. A state of emergency was declared in five regions.
Because little snow has fallen this winter too, the prospects for the coming months are not very hopeful. “In the Alps there is a snow shortage of 50 percent, comparable to last year,” notes climatologist Massimiliano Pasqui in the newspaper Corriere della Sera. According to him, 500 millimeters of rain is needed to restore the level of Lake Garda, the equivalent of fifty rainy days.
The situation of the Po River is even more worrying, says the climatologist: “It will take at least a year before it is back to normal.”
AFPThe almost dried up river Po in Linarolo, south of Milan
Another extremely dry summer would be an economic disaster. 40 percent of Italy’s gross domestic product depends directly or indirectly on the water of the Po. Not only crops such as wheat and rice are grown in the fertile river basin, but also the cows that provide milk for Parmesan cheese and the pigs that are processed into Parma ham. According to agricultural organization Coldiretti, the drought cost farmers more than three billion euros in lost income last year.
Not only farmers, but all residents of the area have cause for concern. “For at least 3.5 million Italians, drinking water is no longer a matter of course,” said the chairman of the Italian drinking water company last week. According to the organization, between 6 and 15 percent of Italians live in areas that are currently exposed to severe or extreme drought.
A third point of concern is the energy supply in northern Italy. There are hydroelectric power plants along the Po, some of which had to be closed for a while last year due to a lack of water. The whole of Italy is 20 percent dependent on hydropower.
With these worrying figures on the table, part of the Italian cabinet is holding urgent consultations today. Prime Minister Meloni wants to make a plan to deal with the drought in the short and medium term. One of the plans is to appoint a national commissioner, who would be given powers in all dossiers related to the drought.
This is necessary because, despite the urgency, it is not possible to take drastic measures quickly. And that while there is money. Of the 4 billion earmarked for climate measures in Italy’s corona recovery plan, only 300 million has so far been allocated to a project, Civil Protection Minister Musumeci said.
This is because the interests of different regions and sectors differ greatly, which means that projects often do not receive the support of all stakeholders. “Recovering from years of stagnation in the water sector requires courageous and immediate decisions,” said the minister.
A lot of water leaks out
Work is being done, among other things, on plans for large water basins around the Po, in which rainwater and meltwater can be stored. The Italian drinking water network is also in urgent need of replacement: more than 30 percent of the water now leaks away before it reaches the tap.
In mid-December, the Italian Climate Change Adaptation Plan was also updated, proposing 360 actions to intervene against droughts, landslides and floods. So there is no shortage of plans. But in the absence of time to implement them, the Italians hope in the short term above all for a rainy spring.
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