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    Wetlands and agriculture, two weapons against climate change (and water conflicts)

    Thirty years to ward off wars triggered by water. It could be summarized in this way, without too much fear of falling into sensationalism or political fiction, the essential message contained in the United Nations world report on the development of water resources, titled this year "Water and Climate Change". In 2050 more than five billion people could find themselves suffering from the reduced water availability, besieged by the needs of a population close to 10 billion, by pollution and by climate change. Protection and management of rivers, lakes, aquifers and wetlands must be rapid and systemic if famines, pandemics and social unrest at all levels are to be avoided, the report warns. The main place of for intervention is identified in agriculture, and the method is composed of nature-based solutions, called to replace the "gray" infrastructures built by man in the centuries of uncontrolled development.

    Water, complains in the preface the UNESCO director general of UNESCO Audrey Azoulay, rarely appears in international agreements concerning climate change, although it constitutes a fundamental element in the solution: “Wetland protection, conservation agriculture and other nature-based solutions can help to sequester carbon in biomass and soils. Improved wastewater treatment can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and produce biogas as a source of renewable energy”.

    Of the 4,600 cubic kilometers used every year, 70% goes to agriculture, 20% to industry and 10% to domestic consumption. In the last century, consumption has increased sixfold and continues to grow by 1% per year. Floods and droughts are the antitheses born from the common phenomenon of climate change. Numbers describing their impact to human life are frightening. According to the report, excesses and shortages of water have caused the death of 166,000 people over the past twenty years, affecting 3 billion people and causing economic damage for over 700 billion dollars. In just ten years, we read in the chapter focused on water and health, deaths caused by climate change could increase by 250,000 units. In 2016 casualties attributable to the diseases brought about by the scarcity or insufficient purification of water resources amounted to almost 1,900,000. Indeed, not a reassuring scenario in the era of the Covid-19 pandemic. Oddly enough, despite the unsustainable levels of water exploitation 821 million people, 11% of the world population, is severely malnourished.

    According to the UN report, the challenge posed by agriculture to climate change comes in two basic forms. On the one hand, production practices must prepare for a near future characterized by scarcity and excesses of water. On the other hand, it will be necessary to "de-carbonize" agriculture through climate mitigation measures and the rational management of production cycles that puts in synergy nature-based solutions and the new technologies available. According to the ISPRA data (Italian Institute for Environment Protection) the agricultural sector represents about 7% of greenhouse gas emissions in Italy, and 94% of ammonia emissions. The ammonia deposit gives rise to various environmental problems, such as acidification of soils, alteration of biodiversity and eutrophication of the waters of rivers, lakes and seas due to the excessive enrichment of nutrients.

    This is no green terrorism, no apocalypse drawn by pure fantasy. Climate change already affects our daily life, even in the territories of the Maristanis project. "In half a century I never irrigated in February" Luigi Nivoli, a historic farmer from Arborea, told us only a short time ago. The heavy rains of October and November suddenly left the Oristano Gulf. "If the amount of water present in the reservoirs is not that of a generalized drought, the period faced by farms can certainly be defined as one" explained Michele Fiori, a researcher at the ARPAS (Regional Agency for the Environment Protection ) Meteoclimatic Department. Some crops, such as the artichoke, have been completely wiped out. Few companies, not reached by the Consortium's irrigation system, had to resort to wells, with the generating sets constantly on for the extraction of brackish water that damages the plants and further impoverishes the aquifer. The Reclamation Consortium reacted promptly, activating extraordinary distribution measures. But a share that varies between 20 and 30% of the water goes lost during the journey that leads to the fields.

    Ancient habits and glimpse of innovation vie for the future of water. The problem can no longer be ignored and there have been several initiatives, both institutional and private. From this point of view, the Maristanis project can be considered at the forefront. Together with the Cooperative Manufacturers Arborea it supports experiments related to methods of abatement of the use of chemical pesticides used near the wetlands, and carries out a project that thanks to satellite images will help farmers to detect with accuracy the amount of water, the humidity and biomass present in the soil. In the fields of the "Sa Marigosa" company, Maristanis participated in financing a weather station which, by linking its data and the drip irrigation system, is capable of reducing water use by up to 30%. New ideas and technologies will soon be implemented and proposed, with the hope of contagion. From one to several companies, from one municipality to several municipalities for a collective and shared management of water resources, and of the environmental heritage. One hectare of wetlands is capable of accumulating up to 900 tons of carbon dioxide.

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