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Forecast Podcast: Italy’s worst drought in 70 years threatens crops and power

A photo of of a river and residential buildings in a town in northern Italy. In the foreground is a river with very little water, a rocky shore close to the camera's viewpoint. Beyond the river are a collection of 6-8 story buildings.

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Jaime Calle Moreno discuss Italy’s worst drought in 70 years, plus more on French airport workers going on strike, a UN Security Council meeting concerning Syrian aid, Japan’s Upper House elections and Mexico’s president visiting the White House.

These stories and more are also available in our weekly Forecast email and you can subscribe for free.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Jess Fino, Sophie Perryer, Joe Veyera, Jimmy Lovaas and Jaime Calle Moreno.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed? Drop us a note:

Podcast transcript

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.


Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is July 7th.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got French airport workers going on strike, a UN Security Council meeting concerning Syrian aid, Japan’s Upper House elections, Mexico’s president visiting the White House and a look at the drought emergency underway in Italy. 

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

French airport workers strike

Information compiled by Jess Fino

JIMMY: Airport staff across French airports are expected to hold a new strike starting on Friday. A strike that is expected to cause more disruption during the busy summer month.

Of course, it was just last Saturday when dozens of flights were canceled at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport with airport staff demanding better wages and working conditions. 

The French strikes follow similar action in other European countries such as Spain, Portugal and Belgium.

Now, airports – and the travel industry as a whole – are already facing a tough summer with staff shortages. Shortages blamed for causing long lines and disruptions across several European airports. 

These strikes, which come as people resume travel after two years of the coronavirus pandemic, well, they’re expected to apply more pressure on the industry to improve its pay and working conditions. 

Finally, French unions have also announced plans to hold additional strikes between July 13th and 17th if their conditions are not met.

UN Security Council meeting on Syria aid route

Information compiled by Sophie Perryer

JIMMY: The United Nation’s final aid route from Turkey into northwest Syria is likely to be closed starting Sunday. That’s because Russia is expected to veto a renewal of a UN mandate. Specifically, one allowing cross-border humanitarian aid operations into Syria.

Russia, which is allied with the Syrian regime, voted to shut down all other UN aid routes into Syria in 2020 and only agreed to retain the Bab Al-Hawa crossing last year after intense negotiation

Russia claims maintaining the aid route violates Syria’s sovereignty and says humanitarian support can be delivered via Damascus.

Now, numerous UN officials and NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say closing the route will have a catastrophic impact on more than 13 million Syrians who rely on humanitarian support. 

Still, there are contingency plans reportedly in place to continue providing aid, including delivering supplies through a consortium of NGOs with the UN providing “offshore” support. However, this presents a greater risk for workers on the ground.

Japan upper house election

Information compiled by Joe Veyera

JIMMY: Approximately half of the 248 seats in Japan’s House of Councillors are up for election on Sunday – an election Prime Minister Fumio Kishida hopes will secure a majority for his ruling coalition.

The latest polling shows Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party and its partners on pace to hold at least 125 seats in the upper house, including members not up for election. 

That marks a change from earlier surveys showing weakening support for the government amid inflation and high fuel prices.

Now, there’s a lot at stake in Sunday’s election. The potential for constitutional reform in the near-term also hinges on the results. 

That’s because Prime Minister Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party and the three other parties that are aiming to revise the charter will need to maintain a two-thirds majority to propose any changes. That means they’ll need to win at least 82 seats combined of the 125 being contested.

Mexican president visits White House

Information compiled by Jimmy Lovaas

JIMMY: U.S. President Joe Biden will host Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at the White House on Tuesday.

The bilateral meeting comes just a month after Lopez Obrador skipped the Summit of the Americas in protest of Biden not inviting leaders from Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. 

Lopez Obrador’s visit also comes amid a surge in undocumented immgration at the U.S.-Mexico border and increasing criticism of Biden’s policies in the wake of recent migrant deaths

Now, the White House says the leaders will be discussing multiple issues, including their efforts to address global challenges like food security. 

They’re also expected to discuss cooperation on migration and joint development efforts in Central America.

Drought emergency in Italy

Information compiled by Jaime Calle Moreno

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on the drought underway in Italy. For more on that I spoke with Factal Editor Jaime Calle Moreno.

JIMMY: Hi, Jaime. 

JAIME: Hi, Jimmy, how’s it going? 

JIMMY: It’s going well. You know, I see there’s a pretty significant drought going on in Italy right now and hoping you can tell us about that.

JAIME: Yeah, of course. So, most recently on Monday, Italy’s Council of Ministers, with Prime Minister Mario Draghi present as well, declared a state of emergency for drought and water scarcity in five northern regions, namely Emilia-Romagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Lombardia, Veneto and Piedmont as well. Now, this state of emergency is supposed to last until December of this year and they’ve allocated a total of around 36 million euros, which is around $38 million, spread across these five regions in terms of size, population and how severely affected they’ve been from the drought. The reason that we’re seeing emergency and extraordinary measures being taken is because of how drastic the issue has really become. The past six or seven months have seen record temperatures and a severe lack of rain and snowmelt from the Italian Alps that, comparatively to other years, is quite striking. The Po River basin, which holds around 40 percent of the country’s national GDP and the Adige River have been acutely affected. Just to put it into context, the government meeting to discuss whether or not to implement the state of emergency lasted a total of 10 minutes, showcasing just really how bad the situation has become. This naturally affects the agricultural sector and irrigation systems that need water for produce and are seeing quite a large lack of it. It also affects an already under-pressure energy sector that needs water in both hydroelectric and thermoelectric plants to either create the electricity or to cool the equipment used. This trickles down to individual daily water usage. And so the issue really touches every home and farm in Italy.

JIMMY: You know, besides the Italian government declaring an emergency, have there been any other plans to mitigate the problems?

JAIME: Yeah, so there’s been a ton so far, especially when the regions themselves have already declared emergencies and kind of acted on them. So, three of these thermoelectric plants have already shut down and three others will probably follow suit in order to save water for other users. Large amounts of water from reservoirs and dams have also been released, kind of in tandem with the crisis in order to maintain some sort of minimum level in some of the cities. There’s also been quite a few local restrictions on water usage across the board. Just to give you a few examples, in Verona, the new mayor signed a decree that limits the use of drinking water for really anything apart from consumption. Now, this has been listed as irrigation, washing cars, filling swimming pools – really anything that isn’t drinking. And this is set in place until the end of August. And the same goes for Pisa, which will also limit the usage of drinking water from urban or rural aqueducts that will only use it for hygiene or consumption. Quite a few cities across Lombardia and Piedmont, two of the other regions that are in the state of emergency, have done the same. And they’ve put into effect various water rationing measures that are kind of spanned across 125 municipalities. While that goes directly towards the water scarcity issue, there’s this National Recovery and Resilience Plan from the EU’s Next Generation program. That is something that the government and many of the regional ministers, especially, are calling for to be used for the emergency. The plan has a large amount of funds, around 600 billion euros spread across six years for Italy’s COVID recovery. But more specifically, there’s around 60 billion that are specifically for “Green Revolution” and ecological transition. And those are part of the general plan that could go quite far in terms of solving the issue in the long term and allowing Italy to be less reliant on snow melt, for example, and create more desalination plants or even just fix really the current system. Italy’s aqueduct system is in dire need of tweaks in order to decrease the amount of leaks that occur through just general transport and optimizing the current infrastructure is something that the government is kind of debating. Regardless, the problem still stands. There is just currently not enough water. And those rationing measures are most likely going to extend elsewhere across the entirety of the country.

JIMMY: You know, there’s a lot of reports saying this is Italy’s worst drought in years. Is that accurate?

JAIME: Yeah, completely. So if you look at the numbers coming out of the environmental protection agency, it’s been one of the worst ones in 70 years. From December until February, Italy recorded 60 percent less rain and almost 80 percent less snow than in other years. And they’ve received about 10 times less rainfall in January alone. Now, the northeast relies substantially on snow melt to come down from the Alps and it’s just hasn’t been the case this year. The Po River, which is very vital for thousands of people in various sectors, and especially agriculture, is about at 30 percent of the seasonal average. In Veneto, the Brenta River has long swaths that have completely dried out and some lakes across Italy are even at 50 percent of normal volume. And these are just changes that have been happening in the last 12 months or so. This trend is being seen across Italy’s regions with rivers in Tuscany last year and even in the South, which is already generally drier than the North. But, high temperatures witnessed across Europe and record numbers hitting Italy, this has really only exacerbated the situation further and created the sort of cycle of deterioration. It won’t be surprising to see other regions requesting other states of emergencies as Umbria and Lazio have already done. And this means that water rationing measures are going to be almost implemented nationally rather than just regionally.

JIMMY: Well, in addition to just looking out for additional governmental action, what else should folks be keeping an eye out for with this?

JAIME: Well, it’s a good question. It’s – I think it’s clear that other regions are going to follow suit and implement emergency measures to try and combat it, most likely also soliciting the Italian government for funds through this kind of state of emergency act. The only issue is, I think, that it’s the beginning of summer and very intense heat waves are predicted across the continent, which is only going to compound the problem even further. This is going to put quite a heavy pressure on the agricultural economy and it’s going to create shortages in the short term and the midterm of, you know, a sector that’s already being hit hard. Some of those water rationing measures that I spoke about earlier, if broken by individuals, they’re going to be fineable offenses with some fines even reaching 500 euros for very, very small infractions. Urgency and need generally create issues and we’re bound to see them come up in disputes between regions in terms of reservoir water allocation and whether one region gets more than another. We’ve also already seen other incidents such as the glacier collapse from this past Sunday from the Marmolada mountain in the country’s Dolomites range, which as of today, has left nine people dead, several others injured and rescue and search operations are continuing for the multiple people that are feared missing. This unfortunate event, as Prime Minister Draghi put it, is a direct result of climate change. And, in a way, related to the situation certain regions in Italy are currently living. While those types of incidents are rare and most likely probably won’t happen again in the short term, the case remains that it’s a possibility. And one thing that is for sure, is that the problem won’t be fixed quickly. So it’s a difficult situation for Italy in the next coming months.

JIMMY: Well, Jaime, we are out of time, unfortunately, but I thank you for drawing attention to this. Such an important story. Appreciate it.

JAIME: Thank you for having me, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Take care.

JIMMY: Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Jess Fino, Sophie Perryer, Joe Veyera and me – Jimmy Lovaas. Our interview featured editor Jaime Calle Moreno and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, thanks for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. You can, of course, subscribe for free. And if you have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Top photo: Drought has hit the Po and Ticino rivers in northern Italy, seen dried up in March 2022. The country’s prime minister has approved a state of emergency. ( Photo: Greenpeace / Emmanuele Calautti)

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