Venetians are used to water. Not only are they surrounded by it in the lagoon, but flooding has long been as issue. However, nothing prepared them for the most recent bout with acqua alta (high water). With waters rising up six feet, 85% of the city was submerged in the worst flooding to hit Venice in 50 years. This was made all the more ironic by the fact that the Venice City Council had just met to finalize their 2020 budget—which involved them rejecting several climate change measures—right before their offices were hit by the floods.
Andrea Zanoni, chair of the environmental committee, posted a set of astounding photographs to Facebook that clearly shows the flooded chambers. It's the first time in history that the chambers, which sit on the Grand Canal, have ever taken on this type of water and Zanoni couldn't help but note the irony. As he mentioned, Venice's extremely high waters are partially due to climate change factors like the melting glaciers that are causing global sea levels to rise.
Unfortunately, the regional council is led by a president from Italy's far-right Lega Nord party and as such, Zanoni noted, that no concrete actions toward combatting climate change were approved within their 2020 budget. Proposed amendments for renewable energy financing, plastic reduction, and replacing diesel buses were all rejected.
This is made all the more disheartening by the fact that Venice's largest anti-flooding project Mose, which was started in 2003 and has yet to be completed, is obsolete before it ever even functioned. Intended to create a barrier to hold back floodwaters, the project has been marred by controversy and a ballooning budget ever since its conception. In the end, when it's completed in 2021, it will have cost an estimated €5.5 billion ($6.1 billion)—well over the original budget of €1.6 billion (about $1.8 billion).
Now, Venetians are picking up the pieces and seeking safety. One death has already been reported, as a man in his 70s was electrocuted while trying to operate a pump in his home to push the water out. For now, the lagoon and its citizens are left with the aftermath and are bracing themselves for what may be a more common occurrence as global water levels continue to rise.
“The problem is extremely complex, I really hope that this is a wake up call for the people who are in charge,” says Paola Rizzoli, a professor of physical oceanography at MIT who previously served as a consultant on the MOSE project. Rizzoli, who grew up in Venice and was in high school when the last flood of this magnitude hit in 1966, hopes that while we wait for solutions, her countrymen make the best of the situation. “I just trust the resilience of the city to survive.”