As the city of Rome and much of Italy experiences a severe drought, the Vatican has turned off its fountains in an effort to preserve water and show solidarity with the city, which may be forced to ration water to about 1 million of the city’s residents.
As far as is known, this is the first time the Vatican has been forced to turn off its some 100 fountains, “so this is an exception," Greg Burke, Director of the Holy See Press Office, told Reuters TV.
The water that comes into the Vatican is from the same sources as the water to the city of Rome, he said. “This is the Vatican’s way of living solidarity with Rome, trying to help Rome get through this crisis."
A prolonged heatwave in southern Europe and two years of well-below-average rainfall have caused a severe drought in Rome and the surrounding areas.
The two large fountains in St. Peter’s Square – Baroque masterpieces by 17th-century sculptors Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini – were turned off Monday. All 100 fountains will be turned off gradually over the next few days, including those in the Vatican Gardens.
“This decision is very much in line with the Pope’s thinking on ecology: you can’t waste and sometimes you have to be willing to make a sacrifice," Burke said.
“We have very beautiful gardens in the Vatican. They might not be as green this year, but we’ll survive."
The decision to turn off the fountains is in line with Pope Francis’ commitment to the environment and concern for the protection of “our common home" that he laid out in his 2015 encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si."
To preserve water, the city of Rome has turned off its drinking fountains and has also begun to turn off or lower the flow of many of its historic fountains. A ban on drawing water from the drought-hit Lake Bracciano, which lies about 25 miles from the city and supplies at least part of its water, will go into effect July 28.
Following this ban, the city may be forced to ration the water supply in up to eight hour intervals to around half of its 3 million residents.
In southern Italy and Greece, temperatures well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit combined with strong winds have caused forest fires leading to the closure of popular tourist sites, such as Mount Vesuvius near Naples, which had 23 wildfires on its slopes earlier this month.
Wildfires near the Calampiso seaside resort west of Palermo, the capital of Sicily, caused more than 700 tourists to be evacuated by boat July 12.
A Vatican seminar on water in February highlighted the complex challenges faced around the world in making the basic human right to water a reality for all people, including under environmental factors such as drought.
Pope Francis addressed participants in the seminar Feb. 24, reaffirming that water is indeed a basic human right.
“Our right to water is also a duty to water," he said. “Our right to water gives rise to an inseparable duty. We are obliged to proclaim this essential human right and to defend it – as we have done – but we also need to work concretely to bring about political and juridical commitments in this regard."
“God the Creator does not abandon us in our efforts to provide access to clean drinking water to each and to all," he continued.
“With the ‘little’ we have, we will be helping to make our common home a more livable and fraternal place, where none are rejected or excluded, but all enjoy the goods needed to live and to grow in dignity."