Fountains turned off as Italy battles drought

People filling their water bottles from a fountain near Saint Peter's Square, just outside Vatican city. Lower-than- average rainfall in Rome has forced the city to turn off fountains and consider the prospect of water rationing.
People filling their water bottles from a fountain near Saint Peter's Square, just outside Vatican city. Lower-than- average rainfall in Rome has forced the city to turn off fountains and consider the prospect of water rationing.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ROME • The historic fountains in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican lay empty yesterday after the tiny city state turned them off as Italy struggles with a prolonged drought.

The dry basins of the two fountains by 17th-century sculptors Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini are symbolic of a period of sweltering temperatures which has devastated farms and forced Rome to consider water rationing.

Ten regions across the country have called for a state of emergency to be declared after Italy suffered the second-driest spring in 60 years and rainfall in the first six months of the year was down 33 per cent.

The dry spell has deprived Italy of 20 billion cubic metres of water so far this year - the equivalent of Lake Como.

And there is little hope for those anxiously watching the skies in the capital: the national meteorological service has predicted small showers in the coming days but not enough to relieve the pressure.

Some 300 of the city's famous "big nose" public fountains - so called because of their shape - have already been turned off and more will follow. The Lazio region is considering rationing water in Rome from Saturday for 1.5 million inhabitants for up to eight hours a day - though the proposal is being fiercely challenged by the city's anti-establishment mayor.

Farmers from the southern island of Sicily to the country's northern plains are also raising the alarm.

The Po river, on which 35 per cent of the nation's agricultural production depends, lies 50cm lower than the same period last year, according to Coldiretti, Italy's agricultural union.

The union estimated that losses suffered by farmers and livestock owners would exceed €2 billion (S$3.2 billion), with production of crops from cereals to olives and tomatoes hit in two-thirds of the country.

AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2017, with the headline 'Fountains turned off as Italy battles drought'. Print Edition | Subscribe