The (already) forgotten lesson of the flood in Romagna

While the Seveso floods in Milan for the twenty-second time since 2010 (it has done so, on average, almost three times a year since 1975, at least in the city section), we cannot help but remember the catastrophic flood in Romagna a year later . Those flood and landslide events, in addition to having brought one of the most productive and lively regions of Italy to its knees, show that, on the one hand, we can no longer ignore the ongoing climate crisis, and, on the other, that the territory the difference. It is a paradigm flood, which tells what has happened to our country in the last century and which can teach what should and should not be done to get out of the emergency and the mud.

In the lands of major reclamations, the embankments were overcome by the water and broke, the expansion tanks proved insufficient in an area made impermeable by concrete, incapable of shedding the rain. Did too much water simply fall in a short time or was there human error? And is it a question of building even more works or of changing tone? Basically it’s a cultural issue. Here it was preferred to continue building and producing without paying attention to the changes in the context, which produces increasingly violent and increasingly frequent events. It happens almost everywhere, but especially here, in these lands already hit by violent floods in history. Yet they preferred to blame the otters rather than the management of the rivers. And we thought, and still think, about great works, when the obvious solution is respect for nature, the rivers in particular, especially at the foot of the Apennines. Less works, we would like, and more nature.

Scientific research still in progress has already highlighted that 2023 was not the first episode of that magnitude, but that there had been at least one other modern precedent, the one between the end of May and the beginning of June of 1939, also in two events in rapid succession. Eighty years ago not even one victim and very little damage. And the same reasoning can be applied to another catastrophic flood event of the past, the great Ravenna flood of 1636 (still at the end of May). We made the difference, transforming an uninhabited and marshy area into an impressive sequence of buildings, warehouses and constructions that simply generated risk.

The characteristics of fragility of the Italian territory, geologically young and active and therefore prone to collapse, are clear, but we must not forget that there is no country in Europe that has built more than ours: at the crazy rate of 2 m2 per according to (Ispra data) we are devouring soil and increasing or even creating natural risk. We are treating rivers like artificial canals, humiliating nature, erasing the landscape and compromising the future of our children and grandchildren. When there are houses and water in the same place, there are houses in the wrong place: all the territory that we have stolen from the rivers, sooner or later, they will take back for sure. And the works are fine, but only where strictly necessary (Genoa, Florence, or, indeed, Milan), because elsewhere they only create damage and it is not possible to dam every river from source to mouth with reinforced concrete.

Due to its paradigmatic value, the Romagna flood of 2023 explains very well what has happened in Italy in recent decades and suggests that, to emerge from the mud, a new culture and a new vision are needed, in the name of the restoration of nature and of the rivers, the only guarantee of safety and economy.

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