FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Italy’s Water Crisis is a Private Affair

The most symbolic evidence of the water crisis facing Italy this summer was the dry fountains visiting in Saint Peter’s Square. Visiting tourists or pilgrims found not a drop of water flowing in the two fontane by 17th-century sculptors Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Sky-high temperatures have crippled farms and left Rome considering water rationing. Last month, ten regions across the country called for a state of emergency. Italy has suffered the second-driest spring in 60 years and rainfall in the first six months of the year fell 33 percent. This has deprived Italy of 20 billion cubic metres of water so far this year—the equivalent of Lake Como.

The Lazio region planned to ration water in Rome for 1.5 million inhabitants for up to eight hours a day. Subsequently pushed back until September 1, this  followed the decision to stop drawing water from Lake Bracciano near the capital; water levels had become so low that it risked sparking an environmental disaster.

The news hit the headlines the world over. And then was quickly forgotten. Not in the Il Bel Paese. Especially not in Rome, where one conservation measure by city hall – lowering water pressure – reportedly forced residents of top-floor apartments to lug buckets up to their bathrooms and kitchens. While bills on bottled water soared.

Last week, the capital’s beleaguered Mayor Raggi declared the worse had been averted, after a court ruling meant the flow of water from Lake Bracciano, albeit scaled back, would not be interrupted.

The capital’s water company knows that droughts are part of a longer term trend, linked to climate change that is affecting Italy and elsewhere in Europe’s south. So quite sensibly this week it kicked off a public information campaign offering customers tips on simple things they can do to save water: turning off the tap instead of letting the water run unnecessarily (saving 5,000 gallons of water per year); taking a shower rather than a bath (120 litres each time); using appliances on full load (8,000 and 11,000 liters of water per year); and watering the flowers and plants using recycled cooking water (1,800 liters per year).

And it is keen to show it is doing its bit, too. It has already inspected 70% of the 5,000 kilometers long water network, promising to complete the repair work by the end of the year, so that by the summer of 2018 more than 1,000 litres per second that had been leaking will be recovered, and the use of Rome’s depleted Lake Bracciano can finally end. Most reassuring. But did things really have to get so bad before it took any action?

The most popular explanations for this summer’s water crisis is corruption, bureaucracy and ineptitude of politicians and senior public servants, as well as party political bickering (Lazio is controlled by the Democrats and the city of Rome by the upstart Five Star Movement).

What’s not been picked up in the media is how private interests of shareholders have helped create this public and environmental emergency. It turns out that Rome’s water company, ACEA ATO 2 S.p.A, paid out 93% of its euros 65 million annual earnings over the period of 2011 to 2015 to shareholders, the largest, with a 96% stake, being stockmarket listed ACEA SpA . Between them, the four major listed multi-utility companies IREN, A2A, HERA and ACEA, distributed over 2 billion euros in dividends, between 2010 and 2014.

With all that money leaking to shareholders no wonder Italian water companies haven’t been dealing with leaks on their networks (an extraordinary 45% of the capital’s water spills out underground or pools onto the street, or is stolen). There’s been a “drastic reduction in investment” to about a third of the level seen 20 odd years ago, when they were 100% publicly owned municipal providers, according to Marco Bersani, an economist and anti-privatisation activist. Not only has investment been cut but so have working conditions, the quality of the services; and while water consumption has increase so have tariffs, he says. All factors that have swollen the water company’s bottom line.

People are quite clear about what they think of private control over the nation’s water. Six years ago 27 million voted in two referenda against water marketisation. Yet Italy desperately needs an ambitious plan of investment in water. Bersani estimates that the modernization of Italy’s creaking water infrastructure would produce 200,000 jobs, a huge boon in a country with 2.9 million, or over 11%, without employment, rising to 35% among 15-24 year-olds.  The cost would be about 15 billion euros.

And where would the money come for this? In June the Italian Government pledged 17 billion euros to rescue two Italian banks, Banca Popolare di Vicenza e Veneto Banca. So money is not in short supply. It really is just a question of priorities. Many Italians would likely agree that water should be at the top of the list.

More articles by:

Tom Gill edits Revolting Europe.

April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail