Green Or Gone

Record Drought & Heartbreak: Italy's Farmers Reap The Damages Of Climate Change

Record Drought & Heartbreak: Italy's Farmers Reap The Damages Of Climate Change

A horse in a dry pasture in Sicily, in August

Coldiretti Sicilia Facebook page
Niccolò Zancan

CERVERE — It hasn't rained in two months. The corn has not grown. Six out of ten hectares of this plain field are completely parched. "It's late now," says Giovanni Bedino, running his dark fingers through the dry leaves of the corn. The farmer, now 59, has been working the land since he was 15.

"Since the day my father passed away, I have done nothing else," he says. "I love this job, but a year like this takes away your love and leaves you sad. The corn died, it was born small and it remained small, stuck, without water and not even a bit of humidity. We couldn't water the fields and nothing came down from the sky. I remember, the summer of 2003 was a very difficult one — but it wasn't even close to this year. I have never seen such a drought."

The Italian northwest is as arid as it gets. The earth is cracking, the crops and the animals suffer. In the middle of the Gesso stream, in the Piedmont region, a woman is bathing with her daughter. "It's fiercely hot," she says. The women and men who have tried, in vain, "to look after the water" also suffer. So says Giovanni Bedino: "We take care of it. We take care of water because we know how precious it is. We take shifts to water the plants. We try not to waste a single drop."

But Bedino says this irrigation canal should have a flow rate between 70 and 90 centimeters in August; yesterday it was 10, today 9. He says, "The water is running out. There isn't enough for everyone."

This is the summer in which the news about climate change matches with reality on the ground.

The flow figures of the local waterways are chilling. Varaita Torrent: -56%. Stura di Demonte: -45%. The Tanaro River, measured at the Farigliano station: -34%. The country has been ravaged by fires and storms, like Greece, Turkey and much of southern Europe. Italy has recorded 1,200 "extreme" meteorological events — a 56% increase from last year. Wildfires ravaged the southern regions of Sardinia, Calabria and Sicily. The town of Floridia, in Sicily, is thought to have recorded the hottest temperature ever recorded in Europe: 48.8 °C. Meanwhile, heavy rainfall devastated other parts of the country. Coldiretti, Italy's largest agricultural association, has just summed up the bill for this Italian summer: The damages to agriculture, it says, amount to €1 billion. Wheat yields have fallen 10%; cherries 30%, nectarines 40%. Tomato and corn crops have also suffered heavy losses.

Like much of Italy, Piedmont is going through the most difficult summer for its agriculture. In Val Maira, at 1,900 meters above sea level at the foot of the Alps, the meadows have turned a dry yellow. The pastures are scorched and the herdsmen are coming down from the mountains earlier than usual because there is no more food for their flocks. The same has happened to the other neighboring valleys.

This is the summer in which the news about climate change matches with reality on the ground. In northern Italy, the area that's bearing the brunt of the crisis is Cuneo province, near the French border.

Livio Quaranta, the president of the consortium that manages water in 108 municipalities, says the situation is very worrying indeed.

"Here's what we see: There are now no permanent snowfields on this entire stretch of the Alps," says Quaranta. "The snow cover has changed: It doesn't remain on the ground for long — it just washes away, because of higher average temperatures."

Quaranta says the weather has depleted the region's water reserves: "There is no water reserve in winter and no rain in summer ... perhaps the odd localized hail storm, then weeks of nothing. It affects agriculture and tourism."

Local authorities prohibited wasting water, which Quaranta says is "necessary." In an attempt to spare every drop and try to save the corn and the last plums, pears and apples, 10 municipalities in the area have temporarily banned filling private swimming pools, washing cars and using drinking water for gardens.

Dry stream in northern Italy — Photo: Informazione Libera Facebook page

Elisabetta Cagliero and her husband run a sports center nearby, where one of the main attractions is rafting. Normally, they put eight people onboard the rafts — now it's five at most: The river level is so low, they've had to reduce the weight.

"Apart from a drizzle in early August, it's been dry," says Cagliero. "The meadows are yellow, it breaks my heart to see them like that. When the reservoirs in the area are emptied to serve the local power plant, the river becomes even smaller and the rafts come back completely muddy."

The sliding irrigation system is not enough, and neither is the shifts system: There simply is no water.

One of the first to sound the alarm, back when the situation was not yet so serious, was Giorgio Bergesio, president of a local irrigation board.

"Climate change is affecting our agriculture dramatically," he says. "We need planning policies to build reservoirs, the only way we have to save water. If this continues, within five years we will be hit by a drought that will make it impossible to produce many crops."

Roberto Moncalvo of Coldiretti, the agriculture association, says it's been a particularly complicated year and they continue to receive worrying reports from farmers.

"The corn and fruit were ripening just now, so there will be heavy losses," he says. "All of this is evidence of climate change taking place: very heavy rainfall, but for a very short time, followed by long periods of drought. We need safe and sustainable reservoirs, new energy policies. We must now think about the changes necessary to safeguard our agriculture of the future."

What is happening in Piedmont has played out in other Italian regions in the last few years. Just three years ago, the northeastern region of Veneto went through a similar crisis. No one knows who will be next. These are peaks and falls of the same movement, pieces of the same story.

"How can we take better care of the water?" asks farmer Giovanni Bedino. Around him, in the area between Cervere and Cherasco, the earth is parched. The sliding irrigation system is not enough, and neither is the shifts system: There simply is no water. "One solution would be to store it in the winter and use it in the summer," he says, looking at his plants. " This corn should be green and lush, and instead it's dying."

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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