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Warning as European tourist hotspot declares state of emergency

Simon Calder’s Travel

A tourist hotspot that set a record for heat in Europe has declared a state of emergency.

The Italian island of Sicily is grappling with severe drought after a lack of winter rainfall, with inhabitants having to stock up on drinking water.

The island, which set a European heat record in 2021 at 48.8 degrees Celsius (119 degrees Fahrenheit), has declared a state of emergency, with dozens of towns rationing water for agricultural and residential use and making supplies available only every other day.

“Even making herbal tea or cooking pasta becomes a tiring job,” said Maria Maneri, a student and waitress from the southern Sicilian city of Agrigento, who often has to lug around a heavy bag of filled water bottles.

“Water in Agrigento is gold,” said Antonio, a fellow resident who declined to give his surname, adding that he regularly fills tanks and bottles at the nearest city fountain.

The world is seeing the warmest February ever documented, following eight consecutive record-breaking monthly temperatures, with devastating effects on water access globally.

A panoramic view of Palermo, Sicily where record heat has hit

(Getty Images)

Agriculture in Sicily, one of the southernmost regions in Europe, was cited as a particular concern by the European Union’s crop monitoring service MARS, which in December raised an alarm on droughts in the Mediterranean.

The Italian island is a producer of citrus fruits and olives, as well as wheat.

Water shortages are nothing new to Sicilians, many of whom have cisterns on their roofs to collect rainwater, but the stocking system has proved insufficient in the face of the long dry spells of recent years.

Some inhabitants are now filling their bathtubs when supplies are available to have washing and cooking water at hand when they are turned off, said restaurant owner Federico Castronovo.

Southern Italy, Greece, the Mediterranean islands and northern Africa now fear that rising spring temperatures will compound the problems for agriculture, ecosystems and the availability of drinking water.

Many Sicilians expect that things will only get worse.

“Future winters could probably be even less rainy”, said Peppe Riccobene in Agrigento. “We are feeling the disastrous impact of climate change every year.”

The globe has broken heat records each month since last June.

January 2024 broke the old record from 2020…

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