by Paolo Santalucia
Mortara, Italy ( Associated Press) – Italy has suffered its worst drought in 70 years, threatening the thirst of paddy fields in the Po Valley and the premium rice crop used for risotto.
Italy’s biggest river is turning into a long stretch of sand due to a lack of rain, flooding the Lomelina rice flats – nestled between the Po and the Alps river – without the necessary water.
“Generally this field is thought to be 2 to 5 centimeters (0.8 to 2 in) under water, but now it seems to be on a sandy beach,” said rice farmer Giovanni Daghetta. Mortara city. The farmers there have been producing the famous Arborio rice for centuries: the wide grain of this local variety is perfect for absorbing the flavors of risotto dishes.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, drought stress is the most damaging factor for rice, especially in its early stages of development. Heat waves, such as those that repeatedly hit Italy with peaks of 40 °C (104 Fahrenheit), can significantly reduce the yield of leftover rice.
“This paddy has not been irrigated for two weeks, and 90% of the plants are already completely dry,” said Dagheta. “The remaining 10%, which are still a little green, urgently need to be submerged within two or three days.” But with more dry days ahead forecast, Dagheta had little hope of that happening.
The lack of rainfall has brought the governors of the various Italian regions to declare a state of emergency to conserve water and coordinate the management of minimal resources.
The region’s main water sources, the Po and Dora Baltia rivers, are eight times below average seasonal levels, according to the West Sessia Irrigation Association, which regulates water distribution through rice fields that snakes.
“From the Po River, we had to get a flow rate of 160,000 liters (42,270 gallons) per second, whereas we currently have an estimated flow rate of between 30,000 and 60,000 liters (7,925 to 15,850 gallons) per second,” Stefano Bondesa said. . , President of the West Sessia Association.
As a result of the water shortage, Bondesa was forced to make some unpopular decisions, most recently deciding to stop irrigation of poplar, fruit trees and other crops in order to prioritize rice.
Tensions are beginning to build up between upstream and downstream regions along the river basin, and between hydroelectric power plants and farmers, who are all competing for the same dwindling resource. It is feared that the next major conflict could happen if rainfall does not bring relief to the empty Italian reservoirs soon.
Italy’s richest city is also feeling the effects of the drought. Milan’s mayor signed an ordinance on Saturday to turn off the water from public decorative fountains to save water.
The Archbishop of Milan, Mario Delpini, made a pilgrimage on Saturday to pray for the “gift of rain”. Delpini visited three churches that serve farming communities on the outskirts of Milan. He recited rosary and used holy water to bless a field in front of the Church of St. Martin Oleiro di Mediglia.
His prayers seemed to be at least partly heard on Tuesday as parts of Milan and northern Italy were temporarily relieved by several sporadic rains.
But the condition of most areas is going from bad to worse. Between a stretch of sand between the Po and Ticino rivers, a river-bed made beach has attracted local residents looking for a place to sunbathe.
Piero Mercanti, who now frequents the sandy river bed with his partner, is monitoring the drop in water levels.
“We had stuck some wooden sticks in the ground last Sunday to find out how much the river is retreating in a week,” he said. Returning a week later, he noted that the river had retreated an additional 26 steps.
Italy’s drought threatens about 3 billion euros ($3.1 billion) in the agriculture sector, an Italian farm lobby said this week. The Confederation of Agricultural Producers of Italy estimates that seasonal crop losses are 30–40%.
While abnormal heat and lack of rainfall are to blame for the current crisis, Italy has a notoriously dysfunctional water infrastructure that the National Statistics Agency estimates causes 42% of its drinking water to be lost from the distribution network each year, in large part. Due to old and poorly maintained pipes.
Italy’s civil protection agency is collecting information from the regions and various national ministries to propose a comprehensive emergency for the affected areas. Hundreds of towns and cities across the North have already passed various orders for responsible water use to avoid the use of rations.
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