Comment earthquake in italy: prevention? Only on paper

Anticipatory action ranks far behind in Italy’s politics. Expected events such as an earthquake are a "state of emergency" every time.

Emergency shelter due to a state of emergency: People whose homes are in ruins are living in the sports hall Photo: dpa

Earthquakes are one of those natural disasters that cannot be prevented. Unlike hurricanes and floods, earthquakes cannot be predicted so that evacuation measures can be taken in response. There is only one thing you can do: prepare for them. And thus ensure that the number of victims remains as low as possible.

Amatrice, Accumoli and the other towns that have now been hit were clearly not prepared for an earthquake. Not only were the historic town centers wiped out, but numerous newer buildings collapsed, including the school, which had only recently been restored and was supposedly earthquake-proof. Yet, on paper, much has moved in Italy.

After the L’Aquila quake in 2009, building standards were further tightened and large sums of money were made available for the restoration of historic buildings in risk areas. But most of the money was not spent – and apparently there was also a lack of efficient monitoring to ensure that the strict standards were actually being met. Instead, the state will now once again be loosening up millions in order to cope with the "emergenza," the "state of emergency," in order to compensate afterwards for those damages that could at least have been reduced beforehand with targeted interventions.

For years, the Association of Italian Geologists, for example, has been complaining about the emergency logic of the aftermath. The fact that prevention is lacking on all fronts, and that Italy does not even consider it necessary to teach children in schools how to behave in the event of a quake in order to increase their chances of survival. Geologists estimate that such programs alone could reduce the number of victims by 20 to 50 percent.

But forward-thinking, systemic action ranks far behind in Italy’s politics. When thousands of refugees arrive, it’s an emergency every time – even though their arrival is more than expected. And politics reacts in exactly the same way to the natural force of earthquakes, in a country that is one of the most vulnerable in Europe.

That things can be different can be seen in Italy itself: The town of Norcia, which was completely renovated after the severe damage caused by a 1997 quake, suffered only minor damage this time, even though it is located only a few kilometers from the epicenter of last Wednesday’s earthquake.

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