By Hilary Clarke
ITALY (CNN) — The Vatican has decided to turn off its famous fountains for the first time in living memory as hot dry weather triggers severe water shortages across Italy.
“The drought that is affecting the city of Rome and the surrounding areas of the capital has led the Holy See to take measures to save water,” the Vatican said on its website.
“The Governorate of Vatican City State has decided to turn off all the fountains, both the external ones located in St. Peter’s Square, and the interior fountains including those in the Vatican Gardens.”
The Vatican has around 100 decorative and drinking fountains, including two 500-year-old marble masterpieces in St. Peter’s Square.
It’s decision follows that of the separate Rome authorities, who have also begun to turn off some of the 2,500 drinking fountains that give the eternal city its character, as well as quenching people’s thirsts in the hot summer months, a spokesman for Acea, the utility firm which runs Rome’s water system, told CNN.
It will however keep a minimum of 85 fountains open and will decide on how many fountains to close day by day based on the weather and severity of drought, the spokesman said.
Officials from Acea in the Lazio region, which contains Rome, are meeting the environment ministry today to discuss the possibility of rationing the water supply to about half of the city’s 3 million residents, Italian newspapers reported.
The Lazio region is to put a stop on water being drawn from Lake Bracciano, about 20 miles from Rome, an important supplier of water to the city, because of a risk to aquatic life as it dries up, Lazio said on its website.
But while the water crisis in Rome and its surroundings has grabbed most of the headlines, the rest of Italy is also suffering from the effects of one of the hottest and driest springs in decades followed by searing summer heat and storms.
According to the Italian farmers’ lobby group Coldiretti, two-thirds of the country’s farmland has been affected by the harsh weather.
“Violent thunderstorms and hailstones on farmland exhausted by drought in a crazy summer marked by extreme (weather) events has driven up the financial losses in the countryside to more that 2 billion euros ($2.3 billion)” Coldiretti said in a statement Tuesday.
Coldiretti said forest fires have also taken their toll on the environment and economy in rural Italy.
Meanwhile, in neighboring France, wildfires across the south of the country and the island of Corsica have burned thousands of acres of woodland.
A spokesman for the Var told CNN that hundreds have firefighters have tackled more than 60 fires since yesterday in his region alone. He said the wildfires, while not unusual for the season, were being made worse this year because of drought. Reuters images show residents of the Cote d’Azur resort of Saint Tropez fleeing their villas as flames lapped around.
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