Italy’s farmers in race against time as drought threatens crops

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A view of the Po riverbed under Ponte della Becca shows the effects of the drought (AP)
A view of the Po riverbed under Ponte della Becca shows the effects of the drought (AP)

Farmers in Italy’s Lombardy region are desperately trying to save their crops, regional authorities have warned, as water supplies continue to wane across the drought-stricken country.

In a press conference in Milan, the head of the Lombardy region Attilio Fontana, told journalists that agricultural water reserves are expected to be fully depleted by the end of July at the latest.

“The last reserves for agriculture are running out and cannot last beyond 25-30 July,” said Fontana. “We’re working carefully, alongside different associations – unfortunately the only thing we can hope for is that it starts to rain again.”

Fontana’s bleak warning follows months of dwindling water levels across the country as Italy endures its worst drought in seventy years.

From north to south water resources have been visibly depleted, including the Po, Italy’s longest river where many stretches have run so dry that the sea water has been making its way inland, destroying crops.

Lake Como in the north and the Tiber River in Rome have also suffered the effects of the drought, with water levels at an all-time low.

“We have decided in this first moment to give priority to the first harvest, so the little water we have available we use it to help agriculture,” said regional councillor Massimo Sertori during the press conference.

A deal with hydroelectric plants should ensure the arrival of approximately six million cubic metres of water to Lake Como until 25 July, which should in turn save the first harvest. But this doesn’t guarantee that the following harvests will survive.

“When the stocks are exhausted, what worries us above all is that we have zero snow, which has always been the summer cache,” said Sertori.

As the water levels dwindle, Italians this week are bracing themselves for what forecasters have called the “most powerful” heatwave of the summer, with temperatures across the country reaching on average 40 degrees Celsius.

The scorching heat is expected to last until the weekend but could also extend to the end of the month, experts have warned.

“These weather conditions could accompany us until almost the end of the month, in a sort of anticyclonic block with high pressure well planted in central and southern Europe,” said Antonio Sanò, the founder and director of weather site Meteo.it.

“The most alarming data concerns rainfall … no significant disruptions or thunderstorm breaks are expected practically until the end of the month. A truly worrying situation given the drought.”

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