June 23. 2024. 6:55

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Italy tables ‘drought’ decree to address severe water crisis

The Italian government has introduced a new drought decree to tackle the country’s severe water crisis, including appointing an extraordinary national commissioner to oversee emergency interventions.

Italy has been frequently plagued by drought during the summer months, with last year seeing a “state of calamity” declared in several regions due to the worst drought in 70 years.

This year, the situation is expected to worsen as the country has experienced exceptionally low rainfall over the winter.

“The goal is to get through the summer because the level of rivers, glaciers and lakes, especially in northern Italy, is dramatic. If we don’t have a rainy spring, it will likely be a very complicated summer,” warned Infrastructure Minister Matteo Salvini.

The decree, presented by Salvini and approved by the Council of Ministers on 6 April, aims to expedite authorisation procedures for water infrastructures. It includes the creation of a task force reporting to Salvini and appointing an extraordinary national commissioner whose mandate will expire at the end of December but may be extended for an additional year.

Measures outlined in the decree include simplified procedures for the design and construction of water infrastructures, increased usable volumes of water reservoirs, and the possibility of constructing rainwater basins for agricultural use within a specified maximum volume.

The decree also includes provisions for reusing purified wastewater for irrigation purposes and simplifying the construction of desalination plants to produce drinking water from seawater.

The task force will map out interventions that urgently need to be implemented within 30 days to address the water crisis in the short term. In case of delays or critical issues, the task force will activate emergency procedures to overcome obstacles.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni emphasised the need to address the deeper causes of the water crisis. “For about 20 years, Italy has been suffering from a cyclical drought problem. No government has chosen to tackle it structurally until now. We are choosing to do so before it becomes an emergency,” stated Meloni.

Critics of the decree argue that it focuses on mitigating the effects of the water crisis rather than addressing its root causes.

Italian Green politician Eleonora Evi took to Twitter to express her concerns, stating that the decree “does not address the causes of the drought but acts by carrying out large-scale works (dams, desalinators, reservoirs) ignoring environmental impact assessment procedures and giving powers to ‘overcome dissent’.”

“A certain intensive agricultural model, particularly livestock farming, is the cause of enormous water wastage that cannot be ignored,” she wrote, adding that reducing meat consumption and promoting plant-based diets should be part of a broader and more far-sighted action.

Italy is wasting vast amounts of water from leaky pipes, a recent report by ISTAT shows. In 2020, the country’s aqueducts had lost 42.2% of the water they carried.

Evi called for concrete actions such as reforestation and policies to curb land consumption and loss of drinking water in a grid that has become porous due to the climate crisis.