The Italian floods: shaping, building and exhausting floodplains

Flooding in Venice in 2010 © A. Currell CC BY-NC 2.0


In Italy, damages (and often deaths) caused by flooding make it to the news almost every year. During the 20th century, Italy was recorded as Europe’s second country most affected by flooding, with about 3,000 flood disasters (Llasat and Siccardi, 2010). The flood that affected the Veneto region in October 2010 was estimated to have caused €3.7 billion in damages (European Commission, 2011), and damages from events that affected Liguria and Toscana in October 2011 were valued at €722 million (European Commission, 2012). In November 2012, six people vanished during the flood affecting Toscana.

In Northern Italy, excessive extraction of ground water has led to heavy subsidence in the Po Valley, reaching 0.7 cm per year (Carminati and Martinelli, 2002), which in turn increases flood hazard. The urbanisation of floodplains has also contributed to increased flood risk, particularly since the 1960s. Different laws and policies have been adopted to regulate land use (Luino et al., 2012). But local autonomy to designate the areas that can be built up, along with the fact that flood risk assessments are not an ‘exact’ science, has in some cases allowed developers to keep building in floodplains (Ibid.). However, it is not only a matter of legislation—regulations are not always respected. For example, in Campania, population growth and speculative development has extended city boundaries towards flood-prone areas and also contributed to landslide risk in the area (Di Martire et al., 2012).

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Flood Italy