Italy’s water crisis exacerbated by leaky pipes, data shows

FILE PHOTO: A drone image shows San Biagio island, affected by drought in Lake Garda, near Lido di Manerba, Italy, February 21, 2023. REUTERS/Alex Fraser

ROME (Reuters) – Italy is wasting more and more of its water from leaky aqueducts, leaving the country increasingly vulnerable to droughts, national statistics bureau ISTAT said on Tuesday.

Scientists and environmental groups sounded the alarm about Italian water shortages in January, after a sharp drop in snowfall was recorded on the Alps and unusually low tides left Venice’s canals dry.

In a report published ahead of Wednesday’s World Water Day, ISTAT said that in 2020, the most recent data available, Italy’s aqueducts had lost 42.2% of the water they carried.

That was the highest proportion on record, ISTAT said, despite repeated pledges by governments of all stripes to resolve the problem.

In 2008, the water leakage was 10 percentage points lower.

“A town in four has water losses above 55% and in five areas out of seven the leaks are increasing,” ISTAT researcher Simona Ramberti told reporters in presenting the report.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni told parliament on Tuesday she was working with regional and city authorities on a “national water plan” to improve infrastructures with new technologies and raise public awareness on the need to save water.

She said an “extraordinary commissioner” would be named to oversee the plan and push through infrastructure improvements.

Last week, Environment Minister Gilberto Pichetto Fratin said in an interview that the government was readying a 7.8-billion-euro ($8.39 billion) package to face the water crisis.

With droughts increasing due to climate change, Italy can ill afford to waste the water it has.

Last year 15 large towns and cities were forced to adopt water rationing, compared with 11 in 2020, ISTAT said in its report.

“Rationing used to be limited to the south, but in 2021 it arrived in the north too,” said Ramberti, adding that this was “a sign of major vulnerability” in the years to come.

Italy draws more water for drinking from its rivers, lakes and reservoirs than any other European Union country, ISTAT said.

Some 30% of this comes from the River Po, which runs for more than 650 kilometres (404 miles) west to east across northern Italy, feeding the fertile Po Valley.

In February last year the Po had 61% less water than was normal for the time of year, according to environmentalist group Legambiente, after the area suffered its worst drought for 70 years.

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