Publication Date July 27, 2017

In Italy's parched Po River valley, climate change threatens the future of agriculture

Satellite view of Po river valley. Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The Po River, Italy’s largest reservoir of freshwater, is thirsty.

A severe drought that has lasted months and shows no signs of easing has led to a fall in water reserves, raising fears about coming harvests and putting a huge strain on the river valley’s crucial agricultural sector.

The alarm was first raised in June, when an exceptional heat wave forced several mayors and governors to declare a state of emergency and take restrictive measures, including water rationing.

Farmers, by far the largest users of the Po’s waters – taking around 16.5 billion cubic meters out of 20.5 billion extracted each year – have been the most severely affected.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my whole life,” said Franco Varani, an 81-year-old farmer from Piacenza province, in the Emilia-Romagna region, where 35 percent of “Made in Italy” farm and food production is concentrated.


This year is hardly the first time the Po River basin has seen drought. Major dry periods hit the area in the last decade, in 2003 and in 2006-2007.

Now, however, rising temperatures appear to be contributing to the region’s problems, including making its reservoirs dry more quickly.

Climate data show that the average annual temperature in the Po River basin increased by about 2 degrees Celsius since 1960, with increases particularly evident in summer. At the same time, average annual rainfall diminished by about 20 percent over the last 30 years.