Ro­mans sweat­ing through worst heat wave in more than 60 years

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

ROME — With the Ital­ian cap­i­tal gripped by a crip­pling drought and its most se­vere heat wave since the mid-1950s, an­a­lysts say the city gov­ern­ment needs to make struc­tural changes to avoid the worst im­pacts from fu­ture bouts with ex­treme heat.

Many other places in Italy have wit­nessed ex­treme heat waves this sum­mer, which also sparked wild­fires that en­dan­ger the lo­cal res­i­dents.

On Thurs­day, a heat wave that led to wild­fires claimed the life of one el­derly woman and forced the clo­sure of a ma­jor high­way.

The 79-year-old woman was found dead in a field next to her home in Sant’Omero in the cen­tral re­gion of Abruzzo, who was ap­par­ently killed by flames that en­gulfed two hectares of sur­round­ing farm­land.

In the cap­i­tal, ev­ery­body feels the burn­ing wave. An­a­lysts said that this year will likely match 1956 as the most in­tense sum­mer over the past cen­tury.

High tem­per­a­tures in Rome have reached at least 40 C for more than a week, with more of the same fore­cast for next week.

That, cou­pled with the dri­est spring in more than 60 years, the heat has sparked fears of wa­ter ra­tioning dur­ing the high sea­son for tourists.

To com­bat the prob­lem, Rome’s city gov­ern­ment and gov­ern­ment of Lazio, the re­gion that in­cludes Rome, have is­sued ad­vice for res­i­dents and vis­i­tors, in­clud­ing: Avoid be­ing out­side dur­ing the hottest part of the day, drink more wa­ter, avoid al­co­holic bev­er­ages, and wear light cloth­ing.

Cli­mate change

The city has pub­li­cized emer­gency tele­phone num­bers for those who might wit­ness some­one suf­fer­ing from heat stroke, with spe­cific in­struc­tions for the el­derly and those in poor health.

Ac­cord­ing to Sil­vio Gualdi, a cli­ma­tol­o­gist, one of the rea­sons the heat feels more in­tense in big cities is be­cause of the quan­tity of heat-gen­er­at­ing ve­hi­cles along with sur­faces cov­ered by ce­ment and as­phalt that store and re­flect heat.

Gualdi said cities can lessen the im­pact of in­tense heat by plant­ing more trees and main­tain­ing parks and other green ar­eas that help cool nearby ar­eas.

Im­prov­ing pub­lic trans­porta­tion so res­i­dents and vis­i­tors are more likely to leave their cars at home can also help, he said.

“Be­cause of cli­mate change th­ese pe­ri­ods of in­tense heat are only go­ing to be­come more com­mon,” Gualdi said.

“What would have been an ex­tremely rare weather event a gen­er­a­tion ago hap­pens much more fre­quently to­day, and all indi­ca­tions are that in the fu­ture they will be­come the norm.”

A sig­nif­i­cant wa­ter short­age is also a big fac­tor in Rome this year. The city has been shut­ting down pub­lic drink­ing foun­tains in or­der to save wa­ter, and it only nar­rowly averted a plan to shut off the wa­ter sup­ply in res­i­den­tial ar­eas for a third of each day.

The city has been forced to rely heav­ily on its backup wa­ter sup­ply, Lake Brac­ciano, north of Rome, and ex­perts say if wa­ter lev­els there get too low it will per­ma­nently dam­age the sur­round­ing ecosys­tem.

Ac­cord­ing to Al­fonso Per­rotta, from the Rome chap­ter of the Ital­ian Fo­rum for Pub­lic Wa­ter, Rome’s wa­ter sup­ply sys­tem should be enough to carry the city through even heat waves and droughts if it was as ef­fi­cient as it should be.

Per­rotta said it was dif­fi­cult to cal­cu­late how much wa­ter is wasted in Rome’s distri­bu­tion sys­tem, but me­dia re­ports the num­ber at be­tween 30 and 40 per­cent.

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