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Amatrice before the earthquake | © WikiCommons
Amatrice before the earthquake | © WikiCommons
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After The Earthquake, What's Next For Italy's Heritage?

Picture of Livia Hengel
Updated: 30 September 2016
The earthquake that devastated central Italy on August 24th, 2016 was not only a solemn reminder of the fragility of human life but also shed a dark shadow on the dangers of antiquated, if not outright ancient, infrastructure. Earthquakes are notoriously difficult to predict but upgrading buildings to be resistant to seismic activity should be a priority for a country that sits on two fault lines.

As one of the most seismic countries in the world, Italy is prone to earthquakes, which are frequent and occasionally devastating. In recent years, the 2009 Aquila earthquake resulted in 309 fatalities, over 1,500 injuries and a completely destroyed city that is still waiting to be rebuilt. In 1908, a catastrophic earthquake in the Strait of Messina provoked a tsunami that killed anywhere between 75,000 and 200,000 people, demolishing the city and future generations. Faced with these grave consequences, Italy has an urgency to address and temper the recurring threat of earthquakes with better prevention methods, such as improved building controls.

Amatrice earthquake | © WikiCommons
Amatrice earthquake | © WikiCommons

Italian personality and columnist for Corriere della Sera Beppe Severgnini published a piece in the New York Times shortly after the earthquake stating, ‘Ancient buildings are gorgeous but can be dangerous. [Italy’s] cities are old and dense, and its buildings rendered vulnerable by heritage laws that protect them from modernization, for better and worse.’ Despite the fact that Italy has some of the world’s most advanced building codes for new constructions, the rules are not always followed and the laws are nebulous as to how this applies to historic buildings. Upgrading buildings is a costly and cumbersome process, particularly for a country plagued by extremely high debt, woeful corruption and byzantine bureaucracy. Italy remains the eurozone’s fourth largest economy but it too often lacks transparency and accountability in its administration of public services.

Hindsight is 20/20 so magistrates are currently investing whether building standards were up to par in towns such as Amatrice, Accumoli and Pescara del Tronto to see if this contributed to the high death toll. There is already evidence of poor adherence to building codes, as the local Romolo Capranica school in Amatrice was shattered by the earthquake regardless to the fact that it was rebuilt only four years ago. According to Istat, the Italian National Institute of Statistics, 17.6% of residential buildings were built unlawfully in 2014. Faced with such devastating consequences in terms of life and infrastructure, it would be wise for Italy to invest in upgrading its buildings for future payoffs. Nearby Umbrian city Norcia, which had invested in seismic-resistant buildings after an earthquake hit in 1997, suffered no loss of life or damage on August 24th. It stands as proof that Italy can, and should, prioritize urban maintenance and development for the good of its citizens and its country.