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The Decline of Venice

© Federico Scarchilli

Alta is a famous Italian word that Italians know well, it means “high water” and it is used in the Adriatic north coast to indicate high tides. Indeed this Mediterranean region is more at risk than other parts, this is because of its particularly rectangular shape and Venice is the city more affected by this calamity. Acqua Alta is intensified by the wind; in fact, the northbound winds called Bora and Sirocco often blow directly towards the harbours which increases the power and speed of the tides. November is one of the worst months for Venice, in fact, it is quite common to see Acqua Alta, but during 2019 high tides became very frequent. The worst tide has been detected on 4th November 1966 reaching the incredible number of 194cm, while on 12 November 2019 this record was almost broken by 187cm, but unlike 1966 where the water relented the day after in 2019 it did not stop; water arrived in Venice day after day, giving no respite to Venetians and the tourists who travel to visit this beautiful city.

One of the main problems is that this event is not so rare as it used to be, and this may be caused by climate change; indeed Italian climate is not so mild anymore, and Italy is experiencing harsher and colder winters and warmer summers. So from 2007 Venice has created an alert system to face this problem; it consists of a siren that warns people, anticipating Acqua Alta. This siren works with initially a sound used for catching the population's attention, then it produces a sequence of whistles whose number increases with the expected tide level: The first tone is for 110 cm, second for 120 cm and so on. When the tide is in a range between 180cm and 190 cm the 80% of the Venetian roads are flooded, meanwhile if the food reaches 200cm it would be 100% of them.

Each time high tides hit Venice they cause damage. Venice possesses an extremely high number of pieces of art in churches, museum and galleries so when the waters arrive many of these pieces are in jeopardy of being irreparably damaged.

ATM do not function anymore. Venice is pedestrianised and there are no cars so everything is delivered by hand from bellboys; who are unable to do it with high tides. Private shops do not open and sometimes it's very difficult to buy provisions.

The Italian government built the “Mose”, a mobile dam that should prevent the tides reaching the levels in the city. Construction started on 2003 and it has cost five million Euros, but at the moment it is not working because it will only function when it is complete! The only way Venetians have to combat Acqua Alta are small pumps that bring water out of their respective properties directly on the streets.

Many studies suggest that Venice will sink within eighty years, turning it into an underwater city; scientists are expecting that sea level will rise by 140cm, but the water level is growing faster, as a result of increased concentrations of greenhouse gasses, which raise the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere. During 2019 Venetians are facing an extremely difficult problem that it is impossible to resolve without international cooperation. We cannot forget that the city is a world heritage site, it does need to be preserved because without action Venice will cease to exist

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