Twenty-two million Italians live in areas classified as “high seismic risk.” According to the estimates by the Civil Protection (last update April 2021), about 40% of the national territory is in seismic zone 1 or 2, those of the highest risk on a scale that goes from 1 to 4. In total, we are talking about an area of 130,000 square kilometers.
The number of buildings at risk is six million, including one million production facilities employing five million workers in total.
Every year in Italy, there are about 100 earthquakes strong enough to be felt by the population. Fortunately, these are almost always small tremors with no destructive consequences.
However, following a historical analysis—as we read in the reports of the Civil Protection—and taking into account the last 120 years, earthquakes that have caused serious damage to persons and property occur on average once every five years. The point, which is often repeated in a more or less fatalistic tone, is never “if” there will be a new devastating earthquake, but “when” this will happen. And where.
“Zone 3” (less high, but not non-existent seismic risk) is home to 19 million Italians. To give an example, the area of Emilia Romagna hit by the earthquake of May 2012 was in zone 3.
The territorial analysis of seismic risk points to Calabria as the most dangerous region, with about 1.2 million people in “zone 1” and 750,000 in “zone 2.” Next we find Basilicata (220,000 in zone 1 and 276,000 in zone 2) and then Sicily, with 4.5 million in zone 2 and 350,000 in zone 1.
The issue of housing is more complex: there are about 15 million homes in Italy built before 1974, the year in which the first earthquake-resistance building regulations were introduced.
The most dangerous regions in this regard are Molise, Piedmont and Liguria, with a quarter of homes over a century old and therefore built with a complete lack of anti-seismic measures.
The situation does not look better if we look at buildings built up to 2001: about 6 million of them are in a state of conservation classified as “mediocre to very poor.”
Overall, this state of affairs is not conducive to optimism: the country’s ability to handle earthquakes is a topic that always emerges only after tragedies, and is then promptly forgotten. Italians are living on shaky ground—literally.
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