Disasters Italy

L’Aquila still a semi-ruined ghost town

Italian government policy over two years has failed the earthquake city

Lavish scaffolding but no restoration on the church of Santa Maria di Paganica, L’Aquila

L’AQUILA. Two years after the earthquake that shook the Abruzzi region in central Italy, its capital, L’Aquila, remains a ghost town. Nothing has been done to rebuild its historic centre, which is still out of bounds to its residents and property owners. All powers are still in the hands of the civil defence commission, which should by now have finished its work, but in fact has had its mandate extended until December. The region’s own local government agencies have effectively been sidelined. Their 630 officials are receiving salaries for not doing what they could and should do, while their work is outsourced to external consultants. The contracts just for making buildings safe (no restoration is taking place) are still being given to construction firms by the deputy commissioner without competitive tendering or proper supervision by the superintendencies for art and architecture, with sometimes devastating effects. For example, the 18th-century frescos in the Palazzo Carli Benedetti have been holed and half-ruined by steel tie-rods.

Broken promises

Promise after promise of funding has been broken. The civil defence commission has estimated that €3.5bn is needed to rebuild the public and private buildings of L’Aquila and the surrounding villages, but the money allocated for cultural heritage amounts to a mere €96m, coming mainly from the civil defence department. The ministry of culture has contributed €18m and in 2011 it will give less than half that. Ordinary ministry of culture and lottery funding has been reduced from the expected €5.8m, already inadequate, to €2.6m. The minister of culture had said that for ten years, 1% of the funds of Arcus Spa (the commercial arm of the ministry set up by prime minister Silvio Berlusconi) would be devoted to the Abruzzi, a significant sum of €20m to €25m per annum. Now however, it has shrunk to barely €60m for the entire period. The decree instituting a new lotto game promised that 23% of the proceeds would go to the Abruzzi—€230m out of a total of €990—but the money has disappeared. Of the famous “wedding list”—donations promised by foreign countries at the 2009 G8 meeting—only €20m of €450m has arrived. A rare piece of good news: Russia has added €3.5m for the Palazzo Ardinghelli.

Policy is also skewed. If no further resources are found, the €120m spent on making damaged buildings safe will also turn out to have been wasted. Already props and retaining rings are giving way and engineers now estimate that they are only 30% effective. In many cases, the propping up was also excessive, as at the Palazzo Ciolina, where €2m was spent on tubular scaffolding that is actually an obstacle to future restoration work. The tie-rods used on the Spanish Fortress, which housed the Abruzzo National Museum, are attached to pliable steel structures and do not guarantee its stability.

There is an urgent need to establish priorities and broker an agreement between the various stakeholders and services. The confusion is increasing, which is why the Veneto region has withdrawn funding of €5m intended for L’Aquila’s Church of San Marco. An interministerial working party has been set up, including the prime minister’s office, the civil defence commission and the ministries for the environment and infrastructure, but not the ministry of culture, which has effectively been sidelined. In practice, everything is entrusted to the deputy commissioner of civil defence, who is required only to make things safe. After countless complaints and appeals, Mas­simo Cialente, who resigned as deputy commissioner in September 2010, has now also resigned as mayor of L’Aquila. “We are in an insane situation,” he said.

The destruction of a community

After the April 2009 earthquake, the 73,000 residents of L’Aquila were initially rehoused in tent cities and then transferred to 19 settlements built under the auspices of the head of Italy’s civil defence department, commissioner Guido Bertolaso. Two years on, it is apparent that these “temporary” settlements have now become permanent, as many predicted they would. Critics of these sterile, modern housing developments, reminiscent of the characterless suburbs built in the US during the housing boom, see them as a government-enforced dissolution of the community and the intangible values they had developed over the centuries. Accusations of widespread corruption relating to the construction of these new settlements have been a constant because they were built under emergency provisions vested in the civil defence department and thereby exempt from the normal tendering process. Citizens and the usual structures of government have been disempowered and thus the vital contribution they could have made to the reconstruction of L’Aquila has been rendered null. E.S.

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