Italy is at risk of facing more food shortages as the river Po dries up

Marica Micallef

On Friday 17th June, the Independent UK published an article stating that Italy’s food and energy supplies are more at risk because Italy’s largest river, the Po, is drying up.

Large portions of Italy’s main river have water levels so low that locals are walking through the centre of the sand and shipwrecks are coming to the surface.  Cyclists and hikers are pausing in a park close to the central northern village of Gualtieri to examine the Zibello, a 50-meter-long (164-foot) barge that hauled wood during the Second World War but drowned in 1943. The waters of the Po typically submerged it. 

The media portal reports that “Authorities fear that if it doesn’t rain soon, there’ll be a serious shortage of water for drinking and irrigation for farmers and local populations across the whole of northern Italy.” It will cause disruptions to residents and farmers.

The Po River, which flows 652 kilometres (405 miles) from Turin in the northwest of the country to Venice in the southeast, is drying up, posing a threat to agriculture in the Italian food valley and to drinking water in the country’s most heavily inhabited and industrialized areas.

Farmers are already using irrigation and watering systems to the fullest capacity to combat the effects of high temperatures and scorching winds when the Po drought strikes.

The river flow is continuously being monitored by the authorities, but there is little chance that the weather will be helpful. The sparse rainfall that fell during the month of June was extremely low and localized. The downpours failed to penetrate the soil while also avoiding the Po and its aquifers.

Meuccio Berselli, secretary-general of the Po River Basin Authority stated that this authority “is frantically working at a resiliency plan to guarantee drinking and irrigation water to millions of households and to the Po valley farmers, who produce 40% of Italian food. Parmesan cheese, wheat, and high-quality tomatoes, rice, and renowned grapes grow in huge quantities in the area.

The resilience plan calls for greater Alpine Lake drainage, less water for hydropower facilities, and water rationing in upstream areas.

Also in danger is the irrigation system. River water typically travels down the valley through hundreds of streams after being raised to higher basins by diesel-powered electric pumps. However, in order to ensure the water required for irrigation, excavators are frantically working to continuously dredge designated canals. Pumps are now in danger of failing to draw water.

Not only will the lack of water affect food production, but also energy production. When energy prices in Europe have already increased due to the conflict in Ukraine, many hydroelectric power facilities would be forced to shut down if the Po dried up.

According to a state-owned energy service system operator, the Po and its tributaries provide 55 percent of the renewable energy used in hydroelectric facilities in Italy and because more energy will need to be generated using natural gas, experts are worried that a shortage of hydroelectric power will result in an increase in carbon dioxide emissions.

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