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FLOODS

Italy unveils €2 billion package for flooded northeast

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Tuesday announced a €2 billion aid package to help northeastern areas affected by floods that killed 14 people, displaced thousands and left swathes of farmland submerged.

A fruit farmer considers his flooded property on May 20, 2023 in the village of Ghibullo, near Ravenna.
A fruit farmer considers his flooded property on May 20, 2023 in the village of Ghibullo, near Ravenna. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

After an emergency cabinet meeting, she announced help for households, businesses, farms, transport systems, schools, healthcare services and the tourism industry, while cautioning that the full extent of the damage has still to be determined.

“This first measure provides for a budget of over two billion euros for areas affected by the floods,” said Meloni, who visited the worst-hit areas of the Emilia Romagna region on Sunday.

READ ALSO: Over 23,000 people still without a home after northern Italy floods

“We clearly know that we are talking about emergencies, that there will be a reconstruction phase in which we are not yet able to quantify the overall need and the damage,” she added.

Some areas still remain under water after six months’ worth of rain fell in the space of 36 hours one week ago.

As of Monday, 23,000 people were still unable to return to their homes.

Residents of Castel Bolognese in Emilia Romagna take shelter in a sports hall after being evacuated from their homes.

Residents of Castel Bolognese in Emilia Romagna take shelter in a sports hall after being evacuated from their homes. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

Almost half the money has been earmarked to help employees and the self-employed, while there are also funds to help businesses, particularly exporters, and farmers, including those who have to buy new machinery.

Meloni, who returned early from the G7 summit in Japan to meet residents at the weekend, said that businesses and taxpayers in affected areas would also benefit from a suspension of tax and mortgage payments.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why has flooding in northern Italy been so devastating?

The floods that wreaked damage across the southeast corner of Emilia Romagna were the second to hit the area within weeks, following a deluge earlier in May that killed two people.

In the most recent disaster, almost two dozen rivers burst their banks.

Water flooded entire neighbourhoods in the wealthy region, which boasts both rich agricultural farmland and industry.

A man stands by a collapsed railway bridge washed away by floodwaters in Sant'Agata sul Santerno on May 21, 2023.

A man stands by a collapsed railway bridge washed away by floodwaters in Sant’Agata sul Santerno on May 21, 2023. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

‘Lost everything’

Schools reopened in Ravenna on Tuesday, although high schools in nearby Forli remained closed until Wednesday due to continuing disruption on the road network.

The region estimates that damage worth more than 620 million euros has been caused to infrastructure, including roads and railways.

Agricultural lobby Confagricoltura said at least 10 million fruit trees will have to be uprooted, and possibly as many as 40 million.

“There are people who have lost everything,” said the head of the Emilia Romagna region, Stefano Bonaccini.

READ ALSO: ‘I lost everything’: Dazed residents clean up after northern Italy floods

“Some sectors have been dramatically affected,” he told reporters in a joint appearance with Meloni.

Furniture is piled up on a bed of a flooded house on May 20, 2023 in the village of Ghibullo, near Ravenna.

Furniture is piled up on a bed of a flooded house on May 20, 2023 in the village of Ghibullo, near Ravenna. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

“I am thinking of agriculture even more than tourism but both are examples of sectors that employ many seasonal workers.”

Some 14 mostly inactive bombs dating from World War I or World War II also emerged out of the floodwaters, which were “all blown up as a precaution” by the army, a local military source said.

Italy has been beset by a number of extreme weather events in the past year, which many people – including former premier Mario Draghi – have linked to climate change.

A dozen people died after flash floods in the Marche region in September, while a landslide on the island of Ischia in November killed 12.

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FLOODS

Floods in Italy: Scientists investigate cause of ‘one-in-200-year’ disaster

After floods devastated much of the northeastern Emilia Romagna region this month, researchers said on Wednesday that climate change wasn't the only factor behind the "rare" event.

Floods in Italy: Scientists investigate cause of 'one-in-200-year' disaster

After three cyclones hit the northern Italian region in mid-May, a team of researchers used computer simulations and past observations to investigate whether human-caused climate change was directly responsible – but found things were more complex than that.

IN VIDEOS: How floods devastated Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region

Seventeen people died and tens of thousands were forced to leave their homes after three exceptionally heavy downpours hit the Emilia Romagna region within three weeks, causing landslides and floods that destroyed farmland, towns and businesses.

The World Weather Attribution (WWA) group of climate scientists said May had seen “the wettest event of this type” for two centuries.

Their study estimated there was a 1-in-200 chance that three cyclones would strike within a three-week period, and the team cautioned that this exceptional event meant more time for research was needed.

“This is not the end of the story,″ said study co-author Davide Faranda, a researcher in climate physics at the Pierre-Simon Laplace Institute in France, during a panel to present the findings.

“This event is too rare,″ he said 

Car underwater in Emilia Romagna

Entire neighbourhoods in Cesena, Emilia Romagna were left submerged by flooding on May 17th, 2023. Photo by Alessandro SERRANO / AFP

The group – whose goal is to demonstrate reliable links between global warming and certain weather phenomena – said its models suggest such events, in this region at this time of year, are not becoming more frequent or intense.

“It is relatively unusual for an attribution study to find that extreme rainfall was not made more likely by greenhouse gas emissions,” the WWA said in a press statement.

Warmer atmospheres can hold more moisture and therefore often result in more frequent and intense rainfall.

But the group said this was offset by a decrease in the number of low-pressure systems in the central Mediterranean, linked to climate change, which mean less heavy rain.

Drought and urbanisation

It underlined that other climate change-related events are increasing across Italy, with an overall trend towards drought but also changes in seasons leading to potentially less frequent but more intense downpours.

The impact of the Emilia Romagna floods was exacerbated by a two-year drought in northern Italy which left the land dry and hard and unable to absorb the water.

Decades of urbanisation had also increased the flood risk, the study said.

Flooded bungalows in Cesena on May 17, 2023 after heavy rains caused major flooding in central-northern Italy. (Photo by Alessandro SERRANO / AFP)

“Our statistical findings acknowledge the uniqueness of such an event which was driven by an unprecedented sequence of three low-pressure systems in the central Mediterranean,” said Faranda.

He emphasised that it was not that climate change had no role, but the relationship went beyond the organisation’s statistical analyses.

“Although spring heavy rainfall episodes are not increasing in Emilia Romagna, extreme rainfall is increasing in other parts of Italy,” he said.

Almost 94 percent of Italian municipalities are at risk of landslides, floods and coastal erosion, according the Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA).

Emilia Romagna is particularly at risk, with a history of flooding and landslides, although nothing even comparable to this month’s disaster has occurred since 1939, said the study, conducted by 13 researchers from Europe and the US.

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