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02 Dec 14 09:14

Genoa is incredibly beautiful, messy, loud and buzzing with life. The major city of the Italian region Liguria, it is situated in the country's east on the Mediterranean.

The coast line is rocky and steep. Some really spectacular engineering is responsible for the highway passing a few hundred meters from the city center, suspended over one of the many deeply cut river basins descending from the inland highlands.

Genoa is also the scene of a major flood event highlighting a series of topics related to urban resilience.

Due to heavy rain starting on 9 October this year several rivers overflowed their basins and a large portion of Genoa – including the center – was flooded. Immediately after the event citizens expressed their anger and frustration over the impotence of the local politicians, in particular the mayor, who was requested by many to step down.

This wasn't the first time the citizens of Genoa have had to deal with the mix of politics and lack of preparedness:

• After flooding in 2011, during which six people were killed, a plan for securing one of these rivers was set up and after a public tender the contractors were selected. However, the selection was contested by the competitors, who took civil legal action - a fact that has delayed construction for two and a half years. The majority of the damage in the center of town after this year's flooding would have been avoided if work had started as planned.

• Frequency of events in northern Italy caused by adverse weather has clearly increased during the past 30 years. Flood warnings for the October disaster came late, as in 2011. But this time the fact that the flooding started during the night was a stroke of luck. This meant that there were few people on the streets, which in turn saved lives. It remains, however, that forecasts are based on mathematical calculations with limitations that make it very difficult to respond accurately and fast enough.

• During this same 30-year period population density has increased in the area, leading to a more intensive infrastructure and land. Illegal construction near the rivers has provided cheap housing for many families. However, the price can be steep when you find that your house has been washed away by the stream and that there is no public support and/or insurance is due to you constructing where you shouldn't.

In Genoa the response to the current flooding from private organizations has been spectacular. The "Mud Angels" – a spontaneous response by unemployed young people - immediately offered their support and the disaster received large scale media attention.

What really needs to happen now? Officials need to address the planning and execution of the works outstanding, and find pragmatic solutions for relocating the population living in illegal housing. Because urban resilience is not only about responding to emergency when it comes, it's about limiting the effect of the emergency before it comes. This calls for a culture change, which means addressing the efficiency of the legal system, establishing efficient and reliable emergency communication, and awareness raising among the citizens so they'll understand the risks of building in a flood zone. This goes for large parts of the world – not only Genoa.

Image: Panorama of Genoa, Wikitravel / LukeWestwalker

Category: Climate/natural disasters: Disaster risk, Floods/storms, Resilience

Location: Genoa, Italy


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