Italy: Can Venice be saved?
The catastrophic flooding of Venice could and should have been averted, said Gian Antonio Stella in Corriere della Sera. Authorities declared a state of emergency in the canal city last week after an exceptionally high tide pushed water levels to about 6 feet, 2 inches above sea level. More than 80 percent of the historic city was inundated, including St. Mark’s Basilica, and gut-wrenching scenes of devastation were left behind. Gondolas littered the banks of the Grand Canal. Hotel lobbies turned into swimming pools: In the 500-year-old Gritti Palace, “sofas and 18th-century tables floated around the room as the portrait of a doge watched sternly from the wall.” On the streets, tourists in rain boots sloshed past “shopkeepers with their hands in their hair,” bleakly surveying their sodden wares. It hasn’t been this bad since 1966, when the water reached 6 feet, 4 inches. Back then, panicked Italians called for immediate action, but once the water receded, they shrugged and mulled over the issue for almost 40 years. The massive MOSE flood protection system that was finally approved in 2003 still hasn’t been completed, thanks to red tape and fraud. We’ve had decades of “experimentation. Of controversy. Of waste. Of bribes. Of judicial inquiries. Of referrals. Of handcuffs.”
Meanwhile, Venice is disappearing beneath the water, said Jacopo Giliberto in Il Sole 24 Ore. Climate change and rising sea levels are to blame, but so is the fact that we pumped water from an underground aquifer from the 1930s to the ’80s, causing the ground beneath us to “collapse with impressive speed.” When authorities finally got serious about flooding in the late 1980s, they could have copied the design of a tried-and-tested dam, like the hulking Thames Barrier that protects London. But glorious Venice is a world treasure, an open-air art museum, so officials instead opted for vastly more expensive “invisible dams” that “won’t disturb the view.” So far, we’ve spent more than $6 billion on MOSE, which won’t be operational until next year at the earliest.
The project is a mess, said Daniele Fiori in Il Fatto Quotidiano. MOSE uses huge floodgates that rise up from the lagoon floor, shutting out the Adriatic Sea when high tides threaten to send water rushing across the city. Construction halted for months in 2013 after the discovery of a massive bribery scheme involving politicians and leaders of the dam agency. Then it was discovered that “the bulkheads were jammed by sand,” and already “the steel hinges—essential for the mechanism to work—are rusting.” Italians just aren’t good at “long-term planning,” said Maurizio Ferrera in Corriere della Sera. We treat the future “as a kind of distant and uninhabited colony in which to discharge the damage produced by current generations.” Look at our booming national debt, which now sits at a whopping $2.7 trillion, 138 percent of our gross domestic product. If we are to save Venice, we’ll have to change our political culture. It’s unclear whether we have the will. ■