Italy declares drought state of emergency in five regions

€36.5 million allocated to Italian regions worst hit by drought.

Italy has declared a state of emergency in five northern regions battling the worst drought in 70 years, the government announced on Monday night.

Emergency funds of €36.5 million are to be divided between the regions of Emilia Romagna, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Lombardia, Piemonte and Veneto.

The funds will be used to tackle the water shortage in the five regions regions surrounding the Po which, at 652km, is Italy's longest river.

The state of emergency "is aimed at addressing the current situation with extraordinary means and powers", the government said in a statement, with the measures due to stay in place until the end of this year.

The emergency funds will be divided as follows: €10.9 million to Emilia Romagna; €4.2 million to Friuli Venezia Giulia; €9 million to Lombardia; €7.6 million to Piemonte; €4.8 million to Veneto.

Praising the "excellent work" done so far by regional authorities, Italy's minister for regional affairs Mariastella Gelmini said the water crisis requires "national intervention" and "immediate solutions".

Priorities include guaranteeing drinking water to all citizens, she said, as well as assisting companies and the hard-hit agricultural industry.

The minister underlined that the current water crisis has highlighted an "already quite critical situation in our country: for decades no new reservoirs and dams have been built, we are dealing with obsolete infrastructure or leaking aqueducts."

Gelmini said that €2.8 billion from Italy's National Plan of Recovery and Resilience (PNRR) is earmarked to address "water management in a structural way", including the repair and modernisation of water networks and investments in irrigation systems for the agriculture sector.

The drought has been compounded by unseasonably hot weather and low rainfall earlier this year, leading several towns and cities in northern Italy to introduce water rationing.

Farmers in the Po valley are faced with rising levels of salty seawater seeping back into the river, destroying their crops, with more than 30 per cent of Italy's agricultural produce at risk, according to farming organisation Coldiretti.

On Sunday at least seven people died in an avalanche after a glacier collapsed in the northern Italian Alps, a tragedy which premier Mario Draghi linked to global warming.

The Lazio region around Rome is also grappling with drought conditions, leading to wildfires around the capital and the reemergence of the remains of the ancient Bridge of Nero as water levels drop in the river Tiber.