Credit Carlo Epifanio

A tough lesson for Italy

“Whatever can happen at any time can happen today.” Seneca

As I entered the room, I perceived time slowing down. Wrecked walls and a dirty floor were covered with a thin powder veil. Everything seemed to be stuck in the past, looking like the exact moment when the ground stopped shaking. On a shelf, a little marble classic statue leaned against the wall still there in equilibrium caught my attention.

“La terra trema il tempo scorre”. Marble statue leaning against the wall. Credit Carlo Epifanio

This seventeenth century palace, thirty kilometers far from the earthquake epicenter, is just one of the uncountable number of damaged buildings in the region. Significant interventions will be necessary to make this place and many others liveable again.

It was October 30 when in the early morning Italy trembled again. This time stronger than before. It was the biggest earthquake of a two-month long sequence, magnitude 6.6. The earthquake occurred in the main center of the Italian regions of Umbria, Marche and Lazio. Even in Rome many scared people ran out of their houses.This never ending seismic sequence started on August 24, when a 6.0 earthquake destroyed Amatrice killing three hundred people. The small town collapsed suddenly becoming a graveyard. Experts had often warned about the risks the region was subjected to: Amatrice earthquake occurred as a new tectonic fault opened in the land.

That part of central Italy has recently experienced terrifying quakes. A few years back, less than a hundred kilometers from the current epicenters, Aquila was struck by a 6.0 magnitude earthquake in 2009. The same region saw the last quake in 1997 which left a wounded territory around Norcia. Fortunately an intelligent reconstruction process factored in, anti-seismic norms. Indeed, many buildings hit by the latest earthquake haven’t collapsed this time. This kind of prevention is the main reason why many lives have been saved.

“Life after the earthquake”. Credit Carlo Epifanio

Geologists will record October 30 as an historical day since it was the biggest seismic event of the last 36 years. It’s necessary to go back to 1982 to find such a powerful earthquake when almost three thousand people died in Irpinia, in southern Italy.

This time the population was more prepared. Prevention had a striking effect in saving human lives. It was not a miracle if the earthquake caused no victims, though damages are still consistent. The latest earthquake razed to the ground towns like Arquata, Ussita and Castelluccio di Norcia, already damaged by the Amatrice quake.

These places are famous for their rich historical and cultural heritage like a multitude of many other small towns. The reconstruction process will take years and billion of euros. This semi-abandoned territory has a lot of old churches and city centers to protect. There is a true need for a prevention plan able to involve the entire peninsula. Indeed, more than 80% of the Italian territory is in a active seismic area. A remarkable 44% of the entire territory, where 24 million people live, has been classified as an high risk area as the map below shows.

Seismic risk classification, 2015. Credit Presidenza del consiglio dei ministri. Dipartimento della protezione civile

In addition, the affected regions are now facing the earthquake consequences. Economic activity is blocked, residents have had to leave their houses and move to the coastal regions. The earthquake has contributed to an already rural-to-urban migration trend. The Government has promised to rebuild anything as it was. But this might not be enough.

The challenge the Italian government has to face consists in giving back to people a normal life. A new dynamism for a region already suffering economic stagnation will be another issue for the government. A simple rebuilding process won’t be enough to make things work. After the 2009 earthquake in l’Aquila prime minister Silvio Berlusconi failed in his attempt to rescue the city. Indeed, Aquila’s city center is still a ghost town surrounded by red tape where nobody has permission to enter.

Italy as a country suffers from a nostalgia towards its past splendour. “If we were Japanese, we would abandon those lands, but we’re not Japanese and we won’t abandon a part of the country” the commissioner for reconstruction Vasco Errani said.

What is necessary to give life again to this hurt region can’t be found only in its fascinating history. A long- term project is needed. The future is not just in looking at how things were in the past. Italians are in a deep reflection process, trying to get over this nostalgic syndrome. It’s hard to tell how much time is still necessary to solve it. For sure the incalculable historical heritage suffocates the birth of the new dynamism which prime minister Matteo Renzi is trying to achieve. A firm answer to this problem is now more than ever necessary to give hope again to a unstable but still fascinating country.