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When in Rome...

Water shortages are often considered a common challenge for developing countries. But this past week has been an example of just how critical global water security is becoming for all nations around the world.

In Italy, Rome is in a desperate situation, facing extreme water shortages and the consequences of a devastating drought. This weekend, more than one-third of the city’s residents could begin having their water shut off for nearly 8 hours every day. In addition to rationing, water pressure has been lowered forcing many in high story apartment buildings to transport water from lower levels into their homes. The Vatican itself has even responded to the crisis, and for the first time in history, is ordering all of their 100 fountains water supply to be shut off, including those in the famous St. Peter’s Square and Vatican Gardens. If water security has never previously concerned you, this should serve as a dire wake-up call.

Trevi Fountain, Rome

Trevi Fountain, Rome

Rome was a city built on water. Much of the power of the Roman Empire can be attributed to Rome’s ability to transport and store water. As early as 312 B.C. Rome was building aqueducts, and utilizing un-paralleled engineering and technology to create an unrivaled water management system. Aqua Virgo, constructed in 19 B.C., is still in operation, supplying water to many of Rome’s fountains and supporting irrigation.

While Rome might have fallen in 476 A.D., it seems in 2017 the city is crumbling yet again. Severe drought since spring, coupled with record high temperatures, is crippling the city. Rome’s 7,000 kilometers of water infrastructure is failing, with 44% of water being either leaked or stolen. Mayor Virginia Raggi has asked Italy to declare a state of emergency within the city, and now nearly 1.5 million Romans could have their water shut off for 8 hours a day until the crisis is over. In addition to the failing aqueducts, Lake Bracciano is also on the verge of running dry. Lake Bracciano currently provides 8% of Rome’s water supply, but severe drought has had an alarming impact on the lake with water levels dropping nearly one centimeter per day. ACEA, Rome’s water utility provider, is desperately trying to repair the aqueducts; however, this fix may not come fast enough. The majority of the pipes are nearly half a century old, and it could take nearly 250 years to replace the system at the current repair rate. Much of the Roman public and media is blaming ACEA, along with climate change, for the water woes of Rome, criticizing the utility company for failure to upgrade and maintain the infrastructure used to store and transport water throughout the city.

While Raggi has adamantly opposed water rationing, it seems city officials will not be following the mayor’s requests. It is a frightening situation and a threat not just to Rome but to many communities throughout Italy where the rationing has already occurred. Despite the aqueduct repair, little is being said about the full effects and plans for addressing this emergency situation. The impacts of the ration are unknown, as its effects could be devastating particularly for sanitation services as well as businesses in the hospitality industry that continuously need water to operate. Many across Rome are outraged by the lack of response from the Italian government as well as the threat of water rationing. It’s a critical situation many never expected Rome--whose ancient innovations led the early development of human water systems--to be facing.

Works Cited

Baba, N. (2017, July 27). Italy: Rome may start rationing water due to prolonged drought. Retrieved from Al Jazeera:

Horowitz, J. (2017, July 27). Rome, City of Ancient Aqueducts, Faces Water Rationing. Retrieved from The New York Times:

Ide, E. (2017, July 29). Eternal City's woes turn up heat on Rome mayor. Retrieved from Yahoo:

Momigliano, A. (2017, July 28). Romans are about to go eight hours a day without water. Retrieved from The Washington Post:

Rodà, I. (2016, December). Aqueducts: Quenching Rome’s Thirst. Retrieved from National Geographic:

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