There have been calls to limit and crack down on both legal and illegal construction in Italy after the head of the country’s civil protection office said more than 90% of Italian municipalities were at risk from landslides and other natural disasters.
Fabrizio Curcio made the comments in an interview with La Stampa after travelling to the southern Italian island of Ischia, where eight people including a 22-day-old baby are so far confirmed to have been killed in a landslide on Saturday.
The figure originated from a report published in 2021 by ISPRA, the Italian government’s environment agency. According to the report, 7,423 municipalities (93.4% of the total) are at risk of landslides, floods and coastal erosion. It said 1.3 million people risked being affected by landslides and 6.8 million by flooding.
Luca Mercalli, the president of the Italian Meteorological Society, who was a scientific adviser for the agency, said the report was among the most important compiled by ISPRA. However, he said no action had been taken by the government to limit the risk in a country vulnerable to natural disasters.
There has been growing debate over the contribution of rampant illegal construction to the tragedy in Ischia, an island in the Gulf of Naples. Curcio told La Stampa that Ischia was at greater risk owing to the high number of homes built illegally on the island, while stressing that other parts of Italy with fewer land planning violations were also vulnerable.
Mercalli said another significant report by ISPRA, published in June, focused on soil consumption, revealing that cement now covered 21,500 sq km (8,300 sq miles) of Italy.
According to the report, Italy lost an average of 77 sq km a year of natural and semi-natural soil between 2006 and 2021, mainly due to urban expansion, exacerbating the damage caused by natural events.
“There needs to be a law against the consumption of soil, and one limiting the continuous rise in construction in the country,” said Mercalli. “But no government wants to do it. These reports are done by a government agency, only to remain in the drawers of parliament.”
Mercalli said legal and illegal construction contributed to the issue.
“There are many situations in which municipalities give legal permits for construction but which from a geological point of view is mistaken. This needs to be stopped. And within the terms of allowable construction, constraints need to be respected when building in areas which are already known to be at risk.”
On several occasions the Italian state has granted an amnesty on illegal construction, allowing people who built property on their land without the required permit to simply pay a fine.
Such a measure was proposed by Giuseppe Conte’s government in 2018. At the time, Vincenzo De Luca, the president of the Campania region, of which Ischia is part, said the amnesty would lead to deaths.
During a visit to the island on Sunday, De Luca said: “Buildings in hydrogeologically fragile areas must be demolished. People need to understand that it’s not possible to live in certain areas.”