In 2024, Italy risks remaining (again) without water

January 2024 was the warmest in history: if many can look forward to milder temperatures considering the savings in heating bills, however as a corollary of an unusually warm winter we have so far experienced …

In 2024, Italy risks remaining (again) without water

January 2024 was the warmest in history: if many can look forward to milder temperatures considering the savings in heating bills, however as a corollary of an unusually warm winter we have so far experienced an extremely dry climate for the regions of Mediterranean. The European Drought Observatory shows how serious the water situation is in 16% of Europe (especially Italy and Spain) but also in Algeria and Morocco at the beginning of February. If the latest weather forecasts give hope for the arrival of a disturbance, it will be difficult to reverse a now established trend with water reserves practically at a minimum in Sicily and Sardinia. Here, consumption quotas are in the air, along the lines of what has already been adopted in the Barcelona region where the government has rationed domestic consumption to 90 liters of water per day.

Global warming has already reached the 1.5 degree limit

To understand the gravity of the situation, it is necessary to look at an example map: the lack of non-existent rain and the high temperatures of these winter months have brought Sicily into the red zone, the only Italian region and in the company only of Morocco and Algeria. For now, it is mainly orange producers who are paying the price, who risk huge losses due to the lack of water just a few months after the harvest. But the forecasts for the whole of 2024 are not rosy, throughout the peninsula, and in the summer it is the entire Italian agricultural sector that risks paying the price.

Drought, the situation in Italy

The end of 2023 was characterized by non-existent rainfall and record temperatures, which in Sicily reached two degrees above historical averages, and in regions such as Abruzzo a point above 2.7 degrees. The excessive heat has therefore complicated an already difficult situation, increasing soil evaporation and forcing farmers to use more water for irrigation. Leading to a situation that in recent weeks has seen anomalies in humidity and in the availability of water in water reserves in many parts of the peninsula.

The map of humidity in the first meter of soil (one of the main drought risk indicators) developed by the service era5 land of the Copernicus satellite monitoring program, shows a critical situation in a large part of Italy, with extreme data for the whole of Sicily and a large part of the South.

According to the Ispra Water Severity Observatory in Sicily and Sardinia, there is “probable economic damage and impacts on the environment” also in light of the climate projections for the rest of 2024: the simulations carried out by era5 land show an almost unchanged situation in the coming months , and almost all projections for the whole of 2024 indicate rainfall below the levels of 2022, one of the worst years in recent decades, when the drought produced a calamity for agriculture and the economy with damages of up to 6 billion euros.

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A global problem

If the situation here seems anything but rosy, elsewhere things are even much worse. In recent weeks, for example, Catalonia has had to declare a state of emergency, limiting the use of water both for citizens and for production activities, due to a record drought which has led the region’s water reserves to reach 16% of total capacity, putting over six million people at risk. Local authorities speak of a situation never seen in the past: for three years the area has lacked sustained rainfall capable of restoring water resources. And plans are already in place to transport water by ship from Valencia to Barcelona, ​​in case the situation does not resolve itself within a couple of months.

Water rationed for 6 million people

If it is always difficult to establish the responsibilities of climate change in the face of individual meteorological anomalies, in America a recent study has confirmed that the western United States in the last twenty years has gone through the driest and hottest period of the last 1,200 years, and that the cause It is most likely attributable to anthropogenic global warming. The research was published on Science Advances at the end of January, and is based on the analysis of tree growth rings (a discipline known as dendrochronology), from which it is possible to establish the climatic conditions in which a plant lived year by year. According to the results, the western United States in the last 22 years has experienced an event that scientists define as megadrought, or megadrought, that is, an anomalous large-scale and long-lasting lack of water, amplified and fueled by the record temperatures recorded in recent decades due to global warming.