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Venice floods spark calls for climate action: ‘The government must listen’

Climate change is high on the agenda in Venice after the historic Italian city faced its worst floods in over 50 years. Photo: Getty

Severe flooding in Venice this week could be a sign of more devastation to come as rising sea levels threaten the future of the Italian canal city.

Water levels peaked late on Tuesday (local time), when the high-water mark hit 187cm – the highest tide in 50 years. The highest level ever recorded was 194cm during the city’s largest-ever flood in 1966.

A second wave of unusually high water followed on Wednesday.

Venice’s mayor Luigi Brugnaro blamed the disaster on climate change and urged Rome to face up to the increasing risk of more dangerous weather events.

“Venice is on its knees,” Mayor Brugnaro said in a tweet.

“A tide at 187 cm is a wound that leaves indelible marks. Now the government must listen.”

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte declared a state of emergency in the city and ordered the release of 20 million euros ($32.4 million) for urgent repairs.

Climate change

The impact of global warming seems to be well and truly underway in Venice.

Nicknamed ‘the Floating City’, the popular tourist spot is built on a series of small islands in a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea, making it particularly vulnerable to flooding. There are no roads; only canals which people travel by boat to get around.

The sea level is 10 centimetres higher than it was 50 years ago, according to the city’s tide office.

This sculpture in Venice titled ‘Support’ is intended to highlight the effects of climate change in the city. Photo: Getty

Environment Minister Sergio Costa said the country needed a “policy that looks at the climate through completely different eyes”.

Mayor Brugnaro, meanwhile, has long been calling for a delayed flood defence project to be fast-tracked.

The project, called ‘Moses’, involves the use of moveable underwater barriers designed to limit flooding.

It was originally set to launch around 2011, but has been stalled due to concerns about damage to the lagoon’s ecosystem, unexpected costs and corruption.

There is still no launch date and some officials don’t expect the floodgates to be ready until 2022.

Council chambers flooded after rejecting climate change measures

As the city was submerging, a small Italian council based in Venice was locking horns over whether or not to allocate more money toward tackling carbon emissions in its budget.

Just minutes after the chamber voted against the proposed measures, the Veneto Council’s chambers flooded for the first time in its history.


Posted by Andrea Zanoni on Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Councillor Andrea Zanoni, who was promoting the measures, said there was “no more meaningful image of the water that floods the council chambers and makes the representatives of the Venetian people flee, to illustrate all the inconsistencies and political nullity of the current, miserable administrative action”.

What’s the damage?

World-famous monuments, tourist landmarks, homes and businesses were harmed by the flooding. Mayor Brugnaro estimated the damage would cost “hundreds of millions of euros”.

The city’s most famous church, St Mark’s Basilica, may never look the same again after it was flooded. The crypt that lies beneath the presbytery is a sacred site used as a burial place for the Patriarchs of Venice. It was swamped with water for only the second time in history this week.

One death has been linked to the floods. A man in his 70s died from electrocution while trying to use an electric water pump at his property on the small island of Pellestrina, according to island official Danny Carrella.

A short circuit started a fire at the Ca’ Pesaro international modern art gallery and authorities turned off electricity at La Fenice theatre after the control room was flooded.

No damage had been reported to art collections in museums just yet, said Italy’s culture minister Dario Franceschini.

Sites remained closed to tourists, many of whom had to relocate to accommodation higher above sea level.

At least 60 boats were damaged in the floods, according to civil protection authorities.

Flood control in other places: What are they doing?

In the Netherlands, where about one quarter of land is below sea level and major floods are common, water control methods have been used since as early as the year 1250 AD – and the Dutch are now leading the way for other countries.

Natural sand dunes, dams, floodgates and manmade embankments known as dikes are used to prevent water from flowing into the country by the Rhine and Meuse rivers.

The Dutch also use a complex system of drainage ditches, canals and pumping stations to keep low-lying land dry.

The Dutch use world-leading technology to manage its flood-prone landscape. Photo: Getty

In the US city of New Orleans, flooding has been a major concern for a long time.

The main part of the city is almost completely surrounded by water and half of the land area between those bodies of water is at or below sea level.

Water pumps and a technique called evapotranspiration are used to mitigate flood threats, which can be caused by natural rainfall. Artificial walls, known as levees, have also been built to keep out rising river and lake waters.

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