Post-quake Italy considers prevention for a change | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 29.08.2016
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Post-quake Italy considers prevention for a change

Earthquake-prone Italy has a history of rebuilding without learning from the past. Geologists are not alone in hoping this time will be different. There are signs it may be, reports Megan Williams from Accumoli and Rome.

In the tent camp below the destroyed town of Accumoli, parents chat listlessly in a makeshift community center, while kids play nearby with Red Cross volunteers.

It's just one of the many small, blue "tentopoli" - tent cities - that dot the lush, green valley below the hilltop towns where almost 300 people died in Wednesday's devastating earthquake.

One mother, a woman named Anna, who didn't want to give her last name, says she hopes her stay here will be brief.

"For goodness sake, the people helping us here, the Red Cross, the firefighters, the volunteers, they've all been exceptional, putting up tents, providing food," she says, looking around at the dozens of workers carrying stacks of bottled water and boxes of cans to the mobile cafeteria. "But I hope to stay here as little as possible. I don't want to leave my home, but I don't want to live in a tent, either."

By "home," she means the tiny, now deserted, borough of Grisciano, where one person died in the quake.

Blue tents in which those who lost their hoems are now staying

Blue tent cities have sprung up in the area hit by the quake

While Anna and the several hundred now living in the blue tents yearn to return to their houses, they also realize that despite government promises of swift rebuilding, it may be months, if not years, before they do so.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has earmarked 50 million euros ($55.8 million) for emergency response.

And money is being generated from other sources too. On Sunday, all proceeds from visits to museums and archeologist sites throughout Italy went to a fund to help rebuild the 293 historic sites that were damaged by the earthquake.

British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, Carlo Petrini - founder of the Slow Food movement - as well as other restaurants around the world have pledged various amounts to be donated for every plate of Amatriciana pasta served, which comes from the destroyed town of Amatrice.

Skeptical public

However, while Renzi has vowed that the destroyed towns will be quickly and fully rebuilt, observers take such promises with a grain of salt.

For one thing, Italy has a long history of money - set aside for for post-earthquake emergencies and rebuilding - ending up in the hands of organized crime.

Franco Roberti, the head of Italy's national anti-mafia office, says, dating as far back as the 1980 Irpinia earthquake near Naples, the mafia managed to make millions skimming off construction contracts.

"There is no use pretending this is not a risk," he told the Italian daily paper La Repubblica. "Earthquake reconstruction is always a major temptation for organized crime."

Emergency workers unload supplies

Emergency workers have their hands full days after the quake

Roberti is calling for extra precautions and for full transparency in contracts to be implemented in the reconstruction of Amatrice, Accumoli, and Pescara del Tronto, the three hardest hit towns by last week's earthquake.

Francesco Peduto, head of Italy's National Geologists Association, says it's all too easy for politicians to make empty promises after an earthquake. It is much harder to put money and thought into prevention.

"We want to believe the promises, we really do, but we've seen the same scenario play itself out so many times now," he says.

According to the geologists association, in the past half-century, Italy has spent an average of 3.5 billion euros ($3.9 billion) a year on repairs and reconstruction following seismic events. Yet, it's been an insurmountable task to get the government to invest in prevention.

Helpers in Grisciano

Earthquake prevention measures could make a big difference

Peduto hopes this will finally change after last week's earthquake, which he says offers a rare and stark contrast between towns that took proper anti-earthquake measures and towns that didn't.

Norcia - hit by two earthquakes in 1979 and 1997 - instituted strict anti-seismic regulations when it rebuilt.

Just as hard hit by the quake that destroyed nearby Amatrice, Accomuli, and Pescara del Tronto, Norcia remains virtually intact, with no one killed by the quake.

'Finally a blueprint'

Peduto says that while he is cautious of politicians' post-quake promises, there are some small, encouraging signs that Italy is at last taking geological risk more seriously.

"For the first time in Italy's history, after an earthquake, a prime minister has talked not just about rebuilding or re-enforcing damaged homes, but of an actual prevention plan," he says. "This gives us some hope."

The plan involves an investment of between two to three billion euros ($2.2 to $3.3 billion) each year.

"It's been too slow in coming," says Peduto, "but at least there's finally a plan in place."

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