Rain plays truant in Italy too

Rain plays truant in Italy too from Tuscany to the tip of Sicily, Italy is in the grip of its worst drought in decades. It has wiped out crops, killed livestock and changed the lives of thousands of people.

Experts say that rainfall in Sicily is at its lowest level in more than 70 years and reservoirs could run dry if it does not rain by October. Italians aver that the recent crisis is more than a natural disaster. They blame it on years of low investment and political negligence that has left the country with a notoriously leaky distribution network. It is alleged that 40 per cent of water is lost even before it reaches the user. As a result, Italy has the highest water consumption per capita in Europe and the third highest in the world.

An independent watchdog body recently concluded that investment in water resources has shrunk by 70 per cent over the last 14 years. One-third of Italy still does not have constant access to drinking water, it stated.

In Palermo, housewives took to the streets, while farmers blocked roads with tractors. The southern city of Agrigento is one of the hardest hit. Here residents go up to 20 days at a stretch without water. "Sometimes we have to bathe in the same water used to wash dishes,' says Leonardo Piscitelli, head of Agrigento's farmers' association.

In Caltanissetta and Palma di Montechiaro, the situation is no better. The pale blue lakes outside Palermo, which provide much of the Mediterranean island's water, have shrunk to one-fifth their normal size.

Farmers across the state of Sicily and southern Italy are also bearing the brunt of the shortage. Agricultural losses in Italy could reach up to us $ 3.42 billion. In Sicily alone, farmers say they need us $1.46 billion in aid and are worried about the future. "This year we will only get raisins out of the grapes,' says Vincenzo Salvatore, a farmer. "The government says that they will compensate us for the losses we have incurred in this drought, but I am still waiting for the cheque they promised me during the drought of 1998.'