Is climate change to blame for the Venice floods?

Climate change could endanger one of the world's most beautiful cities

Is climate change to blame for the Venice floods?
This is one of the worst floods in the history of Venice - Photo: Andrea Merola/EFE
English 14/11/2019 13:05 Reuters Mexico City Riccardo Bastianello, Robert Birsel Actualizada 13:23

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On Wednesday, Venice’s mayor declared a state of emergency after catastrophic floods swept through the city, flooding its historic basilica and old buildings.

After the tide reached 187 cm (6ft 2ins) before midnight, routes turned into raging torrents, stone barriers shattered, boats were tossed ashore and gondolas smashed against their moorings.

This was the highest level since the 1966 record registered a 194 cm tide, nevertheless, not that rising water levels are becoming a regular threat to the tourist attraction, Venice mayor Luigi Brugnaro blamed climate change for the disaster.

Venice is on its knees,” said Brugnaro on Twitter. “The damage will run into hundreds of millions of euros” and added that “This is the result of climate change.”

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Regional governor Luca Zaia told reporters that “Venice has been tortured, but there are also other parts of the Veneto region besides Venice. It is an apocalyptic disaster,”

He said he was “horrified” by what he was seeing from numerous communities.

Moreover, the flood has also affected ancient Italian landmarks such as Saint Mark’s Square and the Saint Mark’s Basilica, which was flooded for the sixth time in 1,200 years and for the fourth time in the last 20.

Venice Archbishop Francesco Moraglia explained that “the Basilica is suffering structural damage because the water has risen and so it’s causing irreparable damage,” and warned that ancient mosaics and tiling might have been severely degraded.

“I have never seen anything like it. Venice is a wounded city, but it can’t keep on being wounded every year in the same way,” the Archbishop said.

During the high tide, over 80% of Venice was underwater and although levels had receded by dawn, it has been announced that further bad weather was expected later this week.

Venice expects Moses to hold back the seas

For decades, Venice has awaited the execution of an infrastructure project involving massive public funding and complex engineering processes.

After the disastrous 1966 floods, the Italian government asked engineers to draw up plans to build a barrier at sea to defend one of the world’s most beautiful yet fragile cities from high tides.

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The construction finally started in 2003 and it was set to be completed by 2011. Nevertheless, the project, known as Mose, has been plagued by corruption, cost overruns, and delays.

Now engineers predict the barrier will be ready by later 2021 and that it will cost €5.5 billion when the original estimate was €1.6 billion.

On Wednesday, Alessandro Morelli, the head of parliament’s transport commission said that “these delays are an embarrassment for all of Italy and we urgently need a solution.”

What is Mose?

Mose is an acronym for “Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico” or “Experimental Electromechanical Module” and it's also a reference to the biblical figure Moses who parted the Red Sea to enable the Israelites to flee Egypt.

This modern-day Moses consists of 78 mobile barriers buried in the water that, when activated, will rise above the surface and prevent surging tides from the Adriatic Sea to flood the city.

“If Mose had been working, then we would have avoided this exceptional high tide,” Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro.

Nevertheless, a part of the infrastructure has already started to rust and it could cost around €100 million a year to maintain.

A report issued by the UNESCO says Mose was planned on a base scenario of sea levels in the northern Adriatic rising some 22 cm by 2100, but many scientists fear the assumption is too optimistic.

“The planned mobile barriers might be able to avoid flooding for the next few decades, but the sea will eventually rise to a level where even continuous closures will not be able to protect the city from flooding,” the 2011 UNESCO report concluded.