Italy drought - river Po

Seawater breaks through salt barriers damaging crops

Environment News

As Italy battles the worst drought in years, salt is rubbed into farmer’s wounds as seawater breaks through barriers and damages crops.

The River Po is running dry following an early summer heatwave. With that comes fears of an agricultural “catastrophe” in Italy. The Po runs for more than 650km from west to east across the north of the country. In the east, it feeds into the Adriatic Sea.

While a lack of rain and snow fall during the winter and spring months means the river is running dry, in the east the sea has breached some of the salt barriers. Waves from the Adriatic Sea have pushed downstream. This makes irrigation even more difficult for farmers already struggling against the high temperatures.

“If there is no rain in the next 10 or 15 days, the crops that are not yet lost will be gone. At this stage, we are progressively losing the harvest,” an environmental activist told Sky News. “Saltwater enters the water table,” said director of Reclaiming the Po, Giancarlo Mantovani. “There are parts of the fields with no plants and others where they grow regularly,” he added.

READ MORE: Worst drought ever in Lombardy

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Austria, a civil emergency has been declared. Villages in the southern state of Carinthia were cut off by mudslides and flooding caused by heavy rainfall.

Rice harvest at risk

The Lomellina rice flats — between the river Po and the Alps — are without the necessary water to flood the paddies. Farmers there have been producing Arborio rice for centuries. Arborio is perfect  for absorbing the flavours of risotto dishes, therefore a key Italian product.

The Italy drought is threatening some 3 billion euros in agriculture. Italy’s confederation of agricultural producers estimates the loss of 30-40% of the seasonal harvest.

While unusual heat and lack of rainfall are to blame for the current crisis, Italy is known for its poorly maintained water infrastructure. The national statistics agency estimates it loses 42% of drinking water from distribution networks each year. This is largely due to old and poorly maintained pipes.

Hundreds of towns and cities across the north already have various orders calling for responsible water use.

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