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Italy struggles with drought and smog after lack of rain

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Italy struggles with drought and smog after lack of rain
People cross a busy street in Milan's city centre on February 20th, 2024. Gas-guzzling cars were banned from roads in Milan and eight other provinces across Lombardy amid high levels of particle pollution. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

From Lombardy to Sicily, special measures are being put in place to alleviate the impact of air pollution and drought following an unusually dry and mild winter.

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Milan and eight other provinces in Lombardy restricted use of the most polluting vehicles on Tuesday, after the northern Italian industrial region registered high levels of harmful air pollution for four consecutive days.

The region, home to many intensive livestock farms, also temporarily banned the spraying of manure onto fields, a practice that causes high nitrate pollution.

Temporary measures were needed due to weather conditions worsening the smog problem, local authorities said on Monday, as the region experienced unusually warm February temperatures and low rainfall.

High particulate levels were also registered in Rome on Tuesday, though there were no special measures in place in the capital.

Climate experts in Italy have sounded the alarm in recent days over worsening drought and other environmental impacts of the lack of rainfall.

Sicily experienced its driest six months in over a century in the second half of 2023, and is missing around 54 and a half million cubic meters compared to normal reserves.

READ ALSO: The winter that wasn't: Italy's climate experts raise alarm over high temperatures

The island region is currently the worst-hit by drought in the country, according to ANBI (Italy's Association of Land Management and Protection and Irrigation Water Consortia), but is far from the only area affected.

Drought alerts have also been issued for Calabria and Sardinia, where farmers are limited in how much water they can use.

In the north of the country, Piedmont is also facing drought, with parts of the River Po at just half of the normal level.

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Authorities in Piedmont asked the agricultural ministry on Monday to declare a natural disaster for drought in the region, saying it has affected vineyards and caused "significant" drops in wine production.

The lack of rainfall is aggravating an already difficult situation, following extended heatwaves last year which lowered reservoir levels and drove up water consumption.

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The dry winter has also meant snow levels are down in both the Alps and Apennines, experts said.

The Italian snow water equivalent - the equivalent amount of water stored in the snow pack - is down 64 percent this month compared to a year earlier, according to the CIMA Research Foundation.

Northern Italy has long been ranked among the most polluted areas in Europe. Parts of Lombardy, Piedmont, and other areas sit in the Po Valley, a basin between mountains, which means ventilation is poor.

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But clean air campaigners say the local geography is too often used as an excuse by authorities who fail to act on high levels of air pollution.

Experts say climate change driven by human activity is boosting the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, droughts and wildfires.

Planet-heating emissions, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, have risen in recent years. Scientists say they need to fall by almost half this decade.

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Luigi V 2024/02/21 07:44
We live in Rapallo, and every day, there are at least a few fires burning, which is either trash or foliage debris, and the smoke fills the air. Sometimes it is so heavy that our clothes hanging on the line retain the disgusting smell. Why is this allowed? Living on the coast where there is no heavy industry one would think that the air quality would be better. Yet, almost on a daily basis, the quality of the air is ranked poor.

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