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CLIMATE CRISIS

Historic drought resurfaces World War II bomb in Italy’s River Po

Historically low water levels in northern Italy's River Po exposed an unexploded WWII-era bomb over the weekend.

Historically low water levels in Italy's River Po brought to light an unexploded WWII-era bomb over the weekend.
Historically low water levels in Italy's River Po brought to light an unexploded WWII-era bomb over the weekend. Photo by Marco SABADIN / AFP.

Bomb disposal experts from the Italian military were called on to safely detonate the 450kg bomb, which they achieved via a controlled explosion on Sunday.

Around 3,000 residents from the nearby village of Borgo Virgilio near Mantua in northern Italy were evacuated as a safety precaution, according to army officials.

“At first, some of the inhabitants said they would not move, but in the last few days, we think we have persuaded everyone,” the village’s mayor Francesco Aporti told Reuters.

READ ALSO: Venice shuts down for WWII-era bomb removal

The bomb, which reportedly contained 240kg of explosives, was transferred to a quarry approximately 30km away from where it was discovered before being blown up.

The device came to light after a months-long drought – described as Italy’s worst in 70 years – caused parts of the River Po to dry up, leaving its riverbed exposed for the first time in decades.

Italy, along with much of continental Europe, has suffered from a series of extreme heatwaves over the summer, causing devastation to its agricultural sector and a sharp increase in wildfires.

The approximately four thousand risotto rice paddies in the Po Valley around the River Po have been particularly hard hit, with farmers forced to abandon some fields altogether try to rescue others.

READ ALSO: Italy’s risotto rice fields decimated by worst drought in decades

“The situation is desperate, not to say apocalyptic,” one rice farmer told AFP news agency in late July.

Italy supplies more than half of the European Union’s rice, most of which is grown in the Po Valley in a 220,000-hectare area stretching west from Pavia in Lombardy to Vercelli and Novara in Piedmont.

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CLIMATE CRISIS

MAP: The parts of Italy most at risk from floods and extreme weather

After flooding devastated parts of central Italy on Friday, data has revealed the areas most at risk as such 'extreme weather events' become more frequent.

MAP: The parts of Italy most at risk from floods and extreme weather

After severe storms and flash floods in the central Marche region last week left 11 dead, with two still missing, environmental organisation Legambiente said climate interventions “can no longer be put off”.

“The climate crisis is no joke,” the group said in a press release published on Saturday. “The flooding that hit Le Marche is yet another alarm bell that the planet is sending us.”

IN PHOTOS: Devastation after deadly flash floods hit central Italy

Italy was hit by a total 64 floods between January and September 2022, according to the latest data from Legambiente’s Città Clima (‘Climate City’) Observatory, with some areas worse affected than others.

As the majority of Italy’s floods occur in the autumn and winter, it’s feared that the total figure for 2022 will be higher than for 2021.

Disasters like the one that hit Marche are difficult to predict, but data from the most recent Città Clima Observatory’s report, published in November of last year, shows which parts of the peninsula have suffered the greatest number of extreme weather events since 2010, giving an idea of the areas most at risk.

Data showed these were mainly large cities such as Rome, Bari, Milan, Genoa and Palermo, and coastal areas, particularly the coasts of Romagna, northern Marche, and eastern Sicily.

The parts of Italy that have experienced the most extreme weather events since 2010. Source: Città Clima

Sicily has been the worst-hit region in recent months, battered by eight floods so far this year and 14 in 2021, the Città Clima interactive map shows. Palermo, Catania and Syracuse have each experienced multiple floods in the past couple of years.

Lazio has also been hard hit, experiencing six flooding events so far in 2022 and ten in 2021, the majority of which occurred in Rome.

READ ALSO

Capital city Rome experienced by far the highest number of extreme weather events: 56 in total, of which 13 involved such heavy rainfall it caused damage to infrastructure and 21 necessitated a partial closure of metro lines.

Bari, the capital of Puglia, was the next worst hit, with a total of 41 events, 20 of which were floods and 18 of which took the form of tornados or whirlwinds that caused damage to the city.

Milan experienced 30 events, of which 20 were a result of river flooding.

The metropolitan area of Naples experienced 31 events, 18 of which occurred in Naples itself, while Genoa was hit by 21 events variously consisting of flooding, torrential rainfall and whirlwinds, and Palermo experienced 15.

A total of 132 extreme weather events were recorded in Italy between January and July 2022 – more than the annual average for the last decade, Legambiente reported in its press release.

A flooded field in Sassoferrato, Ancona province, after severe storms on Friday. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

There have been a total of 510 floods in Italy from 2010 to September 2022, 88 of which happened in 2021, according to the organisation’s statistics.

The association urged the government to take urgent action, arguing that Italy is currently the only major European country that lacks climate adaptation plan, which it says has been on hold since 2018.

“There is no more time to waste,” said Legambiente president Stefano Ciafani.

“If the plan is not approved in a very short timeframe, we risk seeing disastrous social, environmental and economic impacts over the next few years.”

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