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Sicily, Southern Italy Suffer Water Shortage - 2002-07-15


The Italian government is planning to send the army to deal with a severe water shortage in Sicily. But the southern Mediterranean island is not the only Italian region where farmers and housewives are furious over the lack of water.

A state of emergency has been declared in four regions of southern Italy. The water shortage is especially serious in Sicily, which has had its driest year in three decades. The effects have been devastating on crops and industry.

Sicilians are exasperated over the lack of water and have lost their patience with the government and its pledges to resolve the crisis. Farmers and housewives have staged protests nearly every day for two months.

Residents in the Sicilian capital, Palermo, have barricaded roads to demand government action. Citizens complain they cannot wash or cook. They say the situation has become unbearable.

But soaring temperatures and lack of rainfall are only part of the problem in a country that has the highest per capita water consumption in Europe. Experts blame corruption, mismanagement and mafia infiltration of public works contracts for the high water usage.

They say the water distribution system in Sicily consists of leaking pipes and incomplete or poorly built reservoirs. Up to 40 percent of water is believed to be lost before reaching destination.

To deal with the continuous shortages, the Italian government has decided to use the army to transport water to some of the worst affected areas. The police have also been alerted to watch out for civil disorder and illegal acts, including water theft. Government ministers are to meet Tuesday to discuss extra measures to deal with the crisis.