By Eric J. Lyman
ROME, Aug. 3 (Xinhua) -- With the Italian capital gripped by a crippling drought and its most severe heat wave in years, analysts said the city government needs to make structural changes to avoid the worst impacts from future bouts with extreme heat.
Not only in Rome, many places in Italy have witnessed extreme heat wave this summer, which also sparked wildfires that endanger the local residents. On Thursday, a heatwave that led to wildfires claimed the life of one elderly woman and forced the closure of a major highway.
The woman of 79 years old 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 embraced two hectares of surrounding farmland.
Even in the capital, everybody feels the burning wave that never met before. Analysts told Xinhua that this year will likely join 2003, 1982, and 1946 among the most intense Roman summers over the last century.
High temperatures in Rome have reached at least 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for more than a week, with forecasts predicting the same for the next week or more.
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.
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 with the Italy-based Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change, or CMCC, 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 impacts of intense heat by planting more trees and maintaining parks and other green areas that help cool nearby areas. He said improving public transportation so residents and visitors are more likely to leave their cars at home can also help.
"Because of climate change these periods of intense heat are only going to become more common," Gualdi said in an interview.
"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 eco-system.
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 exactly how much water was wasted in Rome's distribution system, but the Italian media reports the number is between 30 and 40 percent.
"What Rome needs to do is to improve its water system to make it much more efficient," Perrotta told Xinhua. "Create better use of water for agriculture, fix leakage in the system, incentivize better use of water in buildings. There's no reason Rome has to suffer from a lack of water at a time like this."
However, officials from Rome's city government and from the government of Lazio declined to be interviewed for heat and water shortage situation.