Why you should care
Just because it’s gorgeous doesn’t mean it won’t kill you.
Who wouldn’t love to own a summer home in gorgeous sunny Italy? Picture it: a serene patio overlooking the beach or the green rolling hills. Maybe your European pied-à-terre would be nestled in a maze of winding, cobbled alleys or near one of the medieval arches that are renowned in scenic hilltop towns.
Just make sure you also have a thorough escape plan. Not because of any Mafia clichés or spikes in home invasion, although a high-end deadbolt and a good Rottweiler are never a bad idea. But your biggest potential foe in Italy is Mother Nature. Believe it or not, roughly
77 percent of its towns are at risk of natural disaster
Specifically, mudslides, landslides, floods and earthquakes, That’s according to Italian environmental-advocacy group Legambiente. Luckily, we don’t have tsunamis and tornadoes over here. Even so, this gloomy picture means that when disaster strikes — and quakes are both frequent and violent — you’d better be in that other 23 percent of the country.
Old is beautiful, but it’s also dangerous. Nearly all cities and villages in Italy date back centuries. “Trouble is, most have never been given a thorough makeover,” says Giorgio Zampetti of Legambiente, “and many buildings are crumbling to the ground.” At the same time, he says, new dwellings suffer from poor construction and a lack of safety regulations. “Above all, Italy needs a sound reconstruction plan” to prepare for natural disasters, says Zampetti.
The outlook darkens when new neighborhoods crop up in high-risk, red-zone areas previously struck by a flood or quake. It’s not that residents and local authorities don’t know about the dangers there. Some experts say that Italians willfully disregard the risks. Alfio La Rosa of consumer lobby Federconsumatori says the majority of Italian territory has been mapped in recent years to clearly depict levels of risk, “but guess what, nobody takes this into account when planning a new town or dwelling.” In Sicily, which is among Italy’s riskiest zones, La Rosa says awareness is widespread, yet few have moved to solve the problem. “Of 390 towns on our island, only 145 have put in place a quake-emergency plan,” he says.
Public funds have always been allocated to reduce the risks associated with natural calamity — bringing buildings up to earthquake code, for instance — but experts say that the money isn’t always used appropriately. Moreover, state and local bodies struggle to keep track of where such investments end up, thanks to the labyrinth of bureaucracy. Then there are criminal construction operations that essentially pilfer public funds allotted to maintenance work by bidding low and then delivering cheap building materials that fold at the first serious gust of wind.
So, to give you a helpful hint: Before purchasing a holiday retreat in Italy, it might be worth taking a look at this official risk-assessment map from the government. It’s pretty easy to read, but just in case you need pointers: Steer clear of the freaky orange-red parts. It’ll up your chances of long, happy years with that lovely cottage you just bought.