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Italy Faces Worst Drought in Decades

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Boats on the exposed bed of the Po in Calto, Italy, on June 17. | Image by : Francesca Volpi/Bloomberg

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Faced with the country’s worst drought in decades, Italy’s cabinet declared a state of emergency in five northern regions on Monday. Italy’s federal government is sending $39.5 million to the affected areas as part of the relief effort.

According to local officials, the Po River Basin is currently experiencing the lowest water levels in 70 years. Over 17 million people live in the basin.

The waters of the Po River were so low in March that a WWII-era German military barge that had been submerged since 1945 became visible.

The secretary-general for the district authority of the Po Valley, Meuccio Berselli, stated: “It’s the perfect storm, less than 70% of snow in the winter, four months of lack of rain, temperatures 3-4 degrees higher than the seasonal average.”

According to Coldiretti, an EU agricultural organization, over 30% of Italian rice crops have been lost as a result of the drought. Italian rice production was already reduced by 10,000 hectares this season due to increased production costs related to the war in Ukraine.

Cia-Agricoltori Italiani, a farmer’s association, predicts that corn and soybean production could be cut in half this year as well, and summer fruits could be reduced by 40%.

A professor of agricultural hydraulics at the University of Milan, Claudio Gandolfi, claimed Italy has poor water management, which exacerbates the issue. Though Gandolfi believes the canal system works well, he said Italy needs to modernize in case of emergencies such as this one.

According to a survey by polling institute SWG conducted last month, 80% of Italians interviewed said they were concerned about the drought. Nearly half were worried they would not have enough water for their own needs.

The EU agency Meteoalarm has issued an “extreme high temperature” warning for much of the country. Temperatures are expected to reach almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit with little to no rain in sight.

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