The disaster caused by severe weather conditions in Emilia Romagna could have happened anywhere. And in Italy we are not ready.

May 20, 2023

Anna Pelagotti
Anna Pelagotti

The bad weather that caused flooding and landslides in Emilia Romagna was neither unpredictable nor unexpected. That global warming due to greenhouse gases emitted by fossil fuels would have caused extreme events has been known and studied for years.

The excessive consumption of the soil obviously also has something to do with it, as well as the regulation of water flow. But of course what is crucial to be aware of is that the crisis is in full swing and no one is safe. Much less our cultural heritage.

As early as 1994, a United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction was convened, bringing together government officials and other specialists, to discuss preparedness, response and mitigation measures to deal with the growing incidence of natural disasters. Since then, two more UNESCO conferences have been held.

For several years, the European Commission has allocated tens of millions of euros to “Climate action, Environment, Resource Efficiency and Raw Materials“, with a specific topic in 2015 for “Mitigating the impacts of climate change and natural hazards on cultural heritage sites, structures and artefacts”, funding a series of projects that study the impact of climate change and what to do to mitigate its effects.

Among the results achieved is the clear need to adopt a monitoring and safety strategy. A series of recommendations on decisions to be made in emergencies. A series of equipment for each museum that allows the works to be “packed” quickly, a plan on where to house them.

And to move from theory to practice. Instead we are still in the extraordinary plans, such as the Extraordinary Plan for the Monitoring and Conservation of Property Cultural Heritage – GENERAL DIRECTORATE FOR THE SECURITY OF THE CULTURAL HERITAGE for which 20 million euros were allocated (10 million for each of the years 2019 and 2020) of which we do not understand the state of implementation.

The damage to our cultural heritage has unnatural causes and as we have seen, no real measures to prevent and mitigate are yet available, neither in Emilia Romagna nor, it seems, elsewhere. And this is a political decision.

What else has to happen for anything to change? What other region do we want to see underwater? Piedmont which was recently affected by a drought with no precedents? Florence? Venice? Rome, where so much heritage is located below ground level?

According to the National Risk Map updated by the Ministry of Culture with ISPRA data (Higher Institute for Environmental Protection and Research), for example, the region with the greatest risk of landslides is Campania, while the one with the greatest risk of floods together with Emilia Romangna, is Tuscany.

In the document “Data processing method on cultural heritage, landslides and floods” by Carla Iadanza of ISPRA – it is said that 2/3 of European landslides occur in Italy. And the situation is not going to improve.

There are about 18.6% of our architectural, monumental and archaeological cultural heritage at risk of landslides, of which 11,712 (5.8%) are in areas with high and very high landslide hazards. While there are even more cultural assets at risk in areas with flood hazards. Of which almost 14,000 are in areas of high danger.

There is clearly no more time to waste. There is nothing extraordinary anymore.