03 November 2016
Florence, 50 years later
Is Europe at flooding risk?
Fifty years ago Florence was hit by a natural disaster that devastated the city. We recall in our minds and commemorate the efforts of “mud angels”, the volunteers who helped the Jewel of Tuscany in its time of need. But floods are still today a major threat for European countries.
Please, don’t let the mud angels fly again. Remembering Florence hit by the flood of the Arno on 4 November 1966, caused damage to people (35 inhabitants were killed), artefacts and properties. In these days, the terrific and spontaneous national and international response comes back to our memory.
Thousands of volunteers, mainly young people, descended on Florence to help inhabitants and to preserve the priceless artefacts of the city, such as the giant tableau by Giorgio Vasari, The Last Supper and the Cimabue Crucifix. Giovanni Grazzini, an Italian journalist, called them “Angeli del Fango”, the Mud Angels. Today, 50 years later, Florence commemorates these individuals who came to save the Italian city's artistic treasures. But flood of memories can overflow. The risk is higher than ever and policy protection is still very poor. A century ago, there were only one or two floods a year on average.
From 1966 until now 1.000 people died because of floods in Italy. The estimated cost of natural disaster is € 3,5 billion every year. Over the past decade, around 80.000 people in Europe have died as a result of natural disasters. Between 2013 and 2014 there were 125 floods in which tides overflowed into the city, four times more than in the Eighties.
The list of recent floods in Europe is impressive: 25 natural disasters during 2013 occurred in Central Europe: in Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Switzerland, Belarus, Poland, Hungary; more than 100 floods occurred in 2014, hitting in particular Southern East Europe, from the Balkans to Greece. Nowadays, remembering Florence and the Angels of Mud effort poses a question: what are European countries doing on prevention?
At present, the EU alone spends more than € 40 billion every year on flood mitigation. According to EU-funded INFRARISK research group, only 4% of the money spent in Europe is applied on prevention measures, such as flood defence, introducing plant trees nearby the rivers, improving soil condition, new flood barriers and flood advanced warning.
The rest of the money is invested in immediate emergency and reconstruction.
And future flood risk in Europe is very likely to increase due to a combination of climatic and socio-economic drivers. Experts estimate that, unless action is taken now, the economic costs to EU cities of storm damage could exceed € 190 billion annually by 2070. Remembering Florence should recall to our memories what happened in June 2016: flood waters flowing through Paris have swelled the river Seine to 6 metres above its normal level, threatening the Louvre and its art works. For the future risk flood, the “Mud Angels” assistance would not be enough.
1 - Parma, “Piccole Figlie” hospital, young volunteers at work to remove the mud brought in after the near Baganza creek overflow - Alessandro Gandolfi/ParalleloZero
2 - Parma, Loredana Amoretti, 88 yo, used to live at the ground floor of this house facing the Baganza creek. “I live here since I was seven, and I’ve never seen anything like this” - Alessandro Gandolfi/ParalleloZero
3 - Aulla (Massa and Carrara), the old school buildings near the Magra river, flooded and destroyed during a flood- Alessandro Gandolfi/ParalleloZero
4 - Aulla (Massa and Carrara), this bridge, broke into pieces after a flood, used to connect the locality of Stadano with the road to Aulla - Alessandro Gandolfi/ParalleloZero