FACT CHECK: Did PM Draghi really say Italy should think about rationing?

Some reports in Italian media this week suggested Prime Minister Mario Draghi was considering plans to 'ration' certain goods due to shortages. But is that really what he said? And why is this being discussed?

FACT CHECK: Did PM Draghi really say Italy should think about rationing?
Italy's Prime Minister, Mario Draghi mentioned rationing at a press conference on Thursday. But how concerned should we be? Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

With the state of current world events, it was hardly reassuring this week to see a crop of headlines in Italian media mention rationing. One from news agency Ansa, in English, simply read: “Mull rationing if things keep getting worse”.

Reports quoted Draghi as saying: “if things were to continue to worsen, we would have to start to get into a logic of rationing” in Italy.

The prime minister’s use of the word ‘rationing’ quickly made the headlines of multiple newspapers and fuelled speculation that Italy could be headed towards World War II-style food and fuel restrictions.

We know that the war in Ukraine means supply chain issues are hitting countries around the world. But what exactly did Draghi say about this, and why? And does Italy really face any major shortages?

Here’s a look at the facts.

What did Draghi actually say?

While Draghi did state the possibility of needing to “prepare ourselves” for rationing in future, he stressed that there was no immediate cause for alarm.

The prime minister’s comments were made at the end of a press conference on Thursday evening in response to a question from a journalist about whether Italians will need to alter their lifestyles as a result of supply shortages caused by the war in Ukraine.

The journalist asked: “Is there a need to say to Italians, hold tight and grit your teeth – not so much in preparation for an economic crisis, but more for the potential need to change food and energy consumption habits, for example – is it the time to say this explicitly, that we should prepare for this eventuality?”

READ ALSO: Russia’s attack on Ukraine will ‘deeply destabilise’ food supplies in Europe

Draghi’s initial answer is swift and curt: “It’s not the time, no,” he responds, before elaborating.

“Rising prices are being addressed, the government is taking mitigating measures. This alarm that you’re talking about, I don’t believe it’s yet been raised in France. We need to prepare ourselves for this, but from here to raising the alarm, there’s a long way to go.”

However, despite his reassurances that Italy does not face any immediate shortages, Draghi does conclude by advising the country’s inhabitants to mentally prepare themselves for scarcity, adding, “If things were to get worse, we would certainly have to enter a mindset of rationing”.

Are there any signs that Italy could face shortages?

The main concern in Italy, as Draghi has previously said, is around the soaring cost of energy. However, the Italian government has repeatedly stated that in the short term there is no concern about scarcity of supplies, and has announced plans to end its reliance on imported Russian gas in the longer term.

READ ALSO: How to save money on your fuel in Italy

In his answer to the journalist’s question, Draghi insisted that the government is doing all it can to address the rising price of gas – on which Italy is particularly dependant as an energy source – and reiterated that there is no suggestion that the country will run low on energy supplies or food any time soon.

There are also widespread concerns about supplies of certain foods and produce, though Draghi again said the Italian government was addressing this.

“Issues relating to food supply chains must be addressed exactly in the same way that we are addressing gas supply issues,” Draghi said at the press conference.

“That is, diversifying as rapidly as possible, government assistance with costs, help for families and companies.”

READ ALSO: Italy announces plan to end reliance on Russian gas by 2025

“This applies for everything: for agricultural supplies, for the supply of grain and corn. We know that the temporary absence of Ukrainian and Russian grain from the market will absolutely create a serious gap, so we need to source these from other parts of the world where there is still an abundance.”

How have Italy’s supply chains been affected by the war in Ukraine so far?

On Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that Russia’s attack on Ukraine will “deeply destabilise” food supplies in Europe and Africa as some of the world’s most fertile agricultural land goes unplanted.

Italy’s supermarket bosses have reassured the public that they are not experiencing problems with supply. However, prices of food and other goods in shops are expected to rise. This is mainly due to the rising cost of energy and transport rather than to scarcity of an particular goods, but the price of some types of wheat has soared in Italy.

Soft wheat, which is used for products like pastries, has become more expensive because Italy relies on significant quantities of imports from Russia and Ukraine. The first week of war in Ukraine led to a 13 percent increase in the cost of soft wheat worldwide.

But durum wheat (grano duro), which is used for pasta, has so far seen more price stability because the percentage of Italy’s imports is lower than that of soft wheat.

Meanwhile there are understandable public concerns as the cost of fuel soared past two euros a litre at the beginning of March, and household energy bills are at an all-time high.

Italian government ministers have insisted fuel price rises are not due to scarcity of supply either, but to market speculation on the price of oil per barrel.

Draghi has promised a tax on the excess profits of energy companies to fund further assistance for families and businesses struggling with high energy bills, and the government is also expected to announce on Tuesday a small, temporary reduction in tax on fuel.

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Drought hits Italy’s hydroelectric plants amid energy crisis

Hydroelectric power production in Italy has plunged this year thanks to a severe drought that has also sparked water restrictions and fears for agriculture, industry sources said on Friday.

Drought hits Italy's hydroelectric plants amid energy crisis

Hydropower facilities, mostly located in the mountains in the country’s north, usually cover almost one fifth of Italy’s energy demands.

But the ongoing lack of rain is causing problems at a time when Rome is desperately trying to wean itself off its dependence on Russian gas due to the war in Ukraine.

READ ALSO: Italy’s heatwave to last another week and get even hotter, say forecasts

“From January to May 2022, hydro production fell by about 40 percent compared to the corresponding period in 2021,” a spokesman for Utilitalia, a federation of water companies, told AFP.

“Hydro production has been steadily decreasing since July 2021,” he said, blaming “the severe shortage of water even at high levels”.

An industry source told AFP that while the situation was constantly changing, estimates for the first six months of 2022 suggest nationwide hydroelectric generation will be almost half the equivalent period of 2021.

One small plant near Piacenza, southeast of Milan, was shut indefinitely on June 21st due to low levels on the River Po that feeds it, the Enel energy company said.

READ ALSO: How long will it take Italy to wean itself off Russian gas?

“Considering the current drought situation, other hydro plants are not operating at full capacity,” a spokesman added, without giving further details.

The Po River, which stretches across the north of the country, is Italy’s largest reservoir of fresh water. Much of it used by farmers, but the area is suffering its worst drought for 70 years.

Italy’s largest agricultural association, Coldiretti, said the drought is putting over 30 percent of national agricultural production and half of livestock farming in the Po Valley at risk.

Local authorities say the situation in the area has been “extremely delicate” since last week, with four regions asking the national government to declare a state of emergency and hundreds of towns now rationing water.

In the northwest region of Piedmont, water is being rationed in more than 200 municipalities according to the ANSA news agency.

Drought in Italy: What water use restrictions are in place and where?

The Maggiore and Garda lakes are both far lower than usual for this time of year, while further south, the level of the Arno, Aniene and Tiber rivers have also dropped.

Arid conditions are set to worsen as the heatwave currently gripping Italy is expected to last until the end of June, with temperatures around the country of “up to 40°C in the shade” forecast early next week.

In Milan and Turin, a massive increase in electricity usage for cooling day and night has pushed the electricity grid beyond its limits over the past week, leading to blackouts.

With many parts of Europe experiencing unusually high temperatures for this time of year, experts have repeatedly warned that longer, earlier heatwaves are a consequence of global heating.

“As a result of climate change, heatwaves are starting earlier,” said Clare Nullis, a spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva.

“What we’re witnessing today is unfortunately a foretaste of the future” if concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to rise and push temperatures towards 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, she added.