ROME — Italy’s government said on Thursday it will appoint a special commissioner to address the effect of a drought crisis, along with a task force made up of leading officials from various ministries.

Dry winter weather has stoked concerns that the country could face a second drought after a state of emergency was declared last summer for the highly productive northern agricultural areas surrounding the Po river.

Infrastructure Minister Matteo Salvini said in a statement that the Cabinet had approved a decree stipulating that the drought commissioner would take charge of all measures needed to tackle the drought problem.

The commissioner, whose mandate will expire at the end of December but can be extended for an extra year, will coordinate efforts to reduce water consumption across the country and maintain and improve water infrastructure, Mr. Salvini said.

There were no immediate details on an appointee or when the appointment will be made. The commissioner will have sweeping powers constrained only by criminal law, according to a draft of the decree seen by Reuters.

Mr. Salvini also said normal bureaucratic procedures would be simplified for work deemed urgent to cope with the drought crisis. Leaky pipes are a major problem. In a report published in March, national statistics bureau ISTAT said that in 2020, the most recent data available, Italy’s aqueducts had lost 42.2% of the water they carried, the highest proportion on record.

In 2008, water leakage was 10 percentage points lower. In February last year the Po had 61% less water than was normal for the time of year, according to environmentalist group Legambiente, after the area suffered its worst drought for 70 years.

Environment Minister Gilberto Pichetto Fratin said last month the government would invest almost 8 billion euros ($8.74 billion) in a package designed to tackle drought. — Reuters