Reportage. At the end of February, the state of emergency is scheduled to end, along with relief payments to those made homeless by earthquakes in August and October of 2016. Some residents are calling for a moratorium on politics in protest.

Italian earthquake victims remain homeless as elections approach

In the areas hit by earthquakes in 2016, the second winter has already come, while the rebuilding hasn’t even started. What’s more: The problems with the provisional houses appear to be far from any possible solution, with people’s anger turning into mere exhaustion. No one appears interested in highlighting this situation, and people are taking almost for granted the fact that the earthquake victims will suffer, as they have no alternative, in a never-ending condition of melancholy resignation.

Looking at the numbers is always useful if we want to understand the situation in the Apennines, in the area straddling the Marche, Umbria, Lazio and Abruzzo regions. The latest data provided by the Civil Protection Department report 2,149 temporary houses delivered in response to 3,662 requests in 48 municipalities. Only a little over half the requests have been answered, and one cannot fail to remember the moment in November 2016 when, in a very unwise move, probably made in the heat of his campaign for the constitutional referendum, Matteo Renzi promised that all earthquake victims would have accommodations by Christmas.

The temporary houses that were delivered are constantly having problems. There have been innumerable reports of the hot water not working, of water leaking through the roofs and of boilers exploding because of the freezing temperatures, to the point that many people have chosen to go and live elsewhere, abandoning forever the idea of ​​returning home.

The protests of the earthquake victims are no longer even considered news, and the post-earthquake management no longer counts as a scandal, because nothing ever changes. And the communities are disintegrating and falling apart as a result of this dour implementation of what has become known as “the abandonment strategy”—the obliteration of entire regions, first crushed by an earthquake and then forgotten. Those who have returned have similar stories to tell: When evening comes, the lights go out and the communities cease to exist. They are, in effect, nothing more than dormitories overlooking the rubble. For them, the fear of disappearance is not paranoia, but becomes more of a reality every day.

“There are no communal spaces,” the activists from Terre in Moto complain. “Anyone who has tried to organize a meeting or any event in one of the villages affected by the earthquakes knows that it is almost impossible to find common spaces available to the citizens. The much touted ‘rebuilding of the communities’ has been ignored, unfortunately.”

To top it all, the electoral campaign is coming. There are some people, tired of the situation but who haven’t given up, who are proposing a kind of “moratorium” on political rallies, and asking that political parties and movements refrain from chasing votes in the areas damaged by the earthquakes.

But how would that be possible while so many in the local administrations are preparing to get involved in the electoral battle? This is the case, for example, with the mayor of Visso, Giuliano Pazzaglini, intensely courted as a possible candidate by Matteo Salvini’s Northern League. It is likewise with the deputy mayor of Arquata, Michele Franchi, a fervent supporter of Renzi who is paraded around like a trophy at every opportunity, now already gearing up for battle. And we must not forget Sergio Pirozzi, the very outspoken mayor of Amatrice, who is taking up the mantle of the center-right to try to achieve broad support for his name in the Lazio regional elections.

It becomes almost impossible to distinguish real and crucial grievances from mere propaganda. And while Special Commissioner for Reconstruction Paola De Micheli keeps saying that everything is going wonderfully, at the same time there are very many local administrators who are laying the blame at each other’s door, without any solution for how to go forward.

At the end of February, the state of emergency declared for the region should come to an end. This means that the earthquake victims will lose most of the compensations and the relief funding to which they have had access in recent months. But will this really happen? The rumor going around is that the state of emergency will be maintained at least until the summer. But at the same time, it will not be convenient for anyone to withdraw public assistance on the eve of the parliamentary elections.

As a result, the days of the state of emergency might be numbered—but the reconstruction hasn’t even begun.

Some more statistics: There are 50,000 unusable buildings in the Marche region alone, the one most damaged by the series of earthquakes in 2016. Out of these, 40,000 have suffered serious damage. To date, no more than eight reconstruction projects have been approved: five for productive activities and three for housing. The situation is not much better for those that have suffered only minor damage: 1,291 requests have been presented, with only 184 approved so far.

According to Cesare Spuri, the head of the Reconstruction Bureau of the Marchese region, the problems are obvious, but they are inevitable, because “the machine is still being broken in.” No one knows when things should finally start working. Everyone, it seems, is waiting for the next emergency.

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