ROME (AP) — Italy’s agriculture minister warned Parliament on Wednesday that a third of Italy’s agricultural production was at risk because of drought and poor water infrastructure, and that the situation is only going to get worse in 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 decades could see further decreases of up to 40%.
“We are thus witnessing a slow but unrelenting wasting away of water availability in our country,” Patuanelli told the lower Chamber of Deputies.
The government has declared a state of emergency in several northern regions because of a prolonged drought and accompanying heat wave that has dried up the Po River, a crucial artery for irrigation across an area of north-central Italy that is a key producer of fruits, vegetables and grain.
The drought followed unusually light precipitation during the winter that deprived mountains of fresh snowfall which would normally feed rivers and reservoirs in summer. The combined climactic events have been blamed for the July 3 cleaving off of the melting Marmolada glacier and ensuing avalanche that killed 11 hikers in northern Trento.
Patuanelli told lawmakers that such droughts occur cyclically in Italy, roughly every five years, but that they are projected to occur more often and “with ever more devastating consequences.”
He said the Po River basin is currently the biggest worry “because the area concerns a third of national agricultural production.”
“We’re talking about the cultivation of fruit, vegetables, tomatoes and cereals, especially corn and rice,” as well as the breeding farms that produce the region’s famed Parmesan cheese and prosciutto.
Italian farm lobby Coldiretti has said the emergency has already cost Italian farmers about 3 billion euros in losses, coupled with soaring energy prices stemming from Russia’s war in Ukraine.
While unusual heat and lack of rainfall are to blame for the current crisis, Italy has a notoriously wasteful water infrastructure that national statistics agency ISTAT estimates loses 42% of drinking water from distribution networks each year, in large part due to old and poorly maintained pipes.