In L'Aquila, the new houses were supposed to withstand earthquakes, but “they didn't even withstand the rain.” The grim reality from this central Italian city is laid out by La Stampa on Wednesday, the 7-year anniversary of the earthquake that killed more than 300 people and left nearly 40,000 without homes. The news now is that many of the structures put in place following the disaster have collapsed or been declared uninhabitable, and dozens of people – entrepreneurs, architects, technicians and community leaders – are under investigation for fraud-related charges.
From the outset, rebuilding efforts in L'Aquila moved at a glacial pace amid fears that criminal organizations had infiltrated reconstruction works. There is still an ongoing debate over how to preserve the town's historic buildings and fortify them to withstand damage from future disasters.
L'Aquila is not unique. Recovery from natural disasters is filled with unexpected challenges, and too often made worse by human shortcomings. Last year, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center reported that since 2008, an average of 26.4 million people per year have been displaced by natural disasters across the globe. Due to the unpredictability of these events, scientists are worried that with climate change, the number of weather-related calamities will only continue to rise.
The aftermath of large-scale catastrophes is felt wherever infrastructures are rebuilt and new social projects emerge in affected communities. After Hurricane Katrina, rebuilding efforts concentrated on New Orleans' French Quarter and popular tourist neighborhoods, while many of the residential areas are still damaged and uninhabited. The Haiti earthquake caused the collapse of the country's government and communication and transportation infrastructures. Even in less densely populated areas, a lack of resources, poor alternative housing and weak displacement policies have aggravated slow reconstruction projects. Around Cameroon's Lake Nyos, years after poisonous gas killed hundreds, fear of another unpredictable explosion is leading to a slow repopulation of fertile land around the lake.
Yet response to such events shines light on improved recovery projects and allows successful programs to be developed and implemented further. Musicians in New Orleans hope that artistic ventures will breath new life into the city's districts while youth programs in Haiti strive to invigorate young people's engagement in sports and community programs. New technology now allows scientists to better predict rising gas levels in Lake Nyos while in L'Aquila, architects are finding new ways to re-erect and preserve important historic structures.