FEATURES » Environmental Risks to Italy's heritage sites

Environmental Risks to Italy's heritage sites

Italy is one of the more tremor-prone countries on earth with heritage sites everywhere exposed to every risk including volcanoes and floods. 

In April 2009, a devastating earthquake destroyed one of Italy’s most beautiful ancient towns, L’Aquila, killing more than 300 people and injuring 1600. Eight years later central Italy was again struck by violent seismic events that affected hundreds of people and destroyed precious cultural heritage. Total damage in last year’s earthquakes was estimated 23.53 billion euros – 541 million euros of it made up by direct impact on heritage sites. The Italian Civil Protection Department applied for support from the European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF), set up in 2002 to assist member states when large-scale disasters occur.

Sixty percent of Italy’s building stock was built before a law dated 1974, which introduced regulations for constructions in risk areas. According to a report of the National Council of Geologists, almost one third of the Italian population, 22 million people, live in high seismic risk zones.

A European project is now bringing together the latest techniques to improve awareness of danger for monuments. The ResCult project, short for “Increasing Resilience of Cultural Heritage” aims to help all players enhance their understanding of the risks faced by cultural sites, as well as the potential impact on related economic activities and social cohesion. It also offers a tool to support risk-sensitive decisions when developing and implementing disaster reduction strategies, as well as improving investments and prevention capacities.

ResCult will create a prototype European Heritage Map, combining data on cultural importance with vulnerability assessments and suggestions for risk reduction measures. It will also enable an evaluation of impacts on the economy and well-being, and provide a platform for monitoring and modelling risk scenarios of specific hazards, by identifying risk factors and designing prevention strategies. An open interface will allow good practices to be shared and support restoration after an emergency.

However, for what concerns already existing buildings the cost of securing them against earthquake damage would be very high. According to the newspaper “Il sole 24 ore” the minimum cost for earthquake-proof masonry buildings in the 648 municipalities at high seismic risk was estimated 36,8 billion euros. Including reinforced concrete buildings, built before 1971 (when the first anti-seismic rules came into force), the cost would raise to 46,6 billion, and including those built before 1981, the cost would be 56 billion. If we extend the number of municipalities to be secured, the cost would amount to 870 billion euros. Hopefully, the government will be able to find a way to face up to this hazardous situation.

Giulia Lombardo

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