Wasted water saps battle against Italy's drought

STORY: For thousands of years, this vast swathe of land south of Italy's Rome was a boggy swamp.

A drainage program in the 1930s transformed it from malaria-infested marshes into prime agricultural fields.

Now, water here is actually growing scarce as the country is gripped by one of the worst droughts in living memory.

Stefano Boschetto runs a family farm on the fertile Latina plains.

His crops of kiwi fruit, cucumbers and melons are suffering from water rationing which halts irrigation for two days a week.

''It seems strange that we are talking about a lack of water in an area like this, where not a thousand years ago, but 80-90 years ago excess water was being pumped out. But in reality, things change, and they change quickly, so we have to understand just as quickly what the problems are and figure out how to solve them, and find solutions to solve the problems and to have quality agriculture.''

It's not just the weather that's causing Boschetto a headache.

Ageing infrastructure and leaky pipes are making the situation worse.

Much precious water is vanishing down the drain before it even reaches the taps.

In fact, about 70% of water gets lost in transit in Latina.

Marco Lombardi is CEO of the local water company, Aqualatina.

He says the blame cannot just be laid on the poor infrastructure.

"The number of 70 percent (of water lost) should actually be reduced to around 10 to 20 percent less because that is how much is lost because of administrative reasons (eg. water theft, metreing). So the real physical water leakage figure is between 50 and 60 percent. I have to say that when someone sees this number, they must think that the company managing the water system is not doing anything about it. However, the truth is the opposite, in the sense that 'Acqualatina' does more than 10,000 repair interventions a year on a network of pipes that is 3,500 kilometers long."

In an effort to counter the crisis, Italy's government has earmarked $4.5 billion from a European Union pandemic recovery fund.

It will use the money over the next four years to improve water management.

It estimates that capturing a quarter of the country's annual rainfall would cover the needs of the nation's farmers.

It is planning to use some of the EU cash to create dozens of reservoirs to store rainwater run-off.

For farmers like Boschetto, the funds cannot start flowing soon enough.

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