Challenges on management of natural disasters: L’aquila and Lorca earthquakes

Last week came to light the unexpected sentence for the seven members of the Commission of Major Risks which underestimated the probability of a major event some days before the earthquake in L’Aquila in April 2009. As pointed out in an article in The Guardian,...

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Last week came to light the unexpected sentence for the seven members of the Commission of Major Risks which underestimated the probability of a major event some days before the earthquake in L’Aquila in April 2009. As pointed out in an article in The Guardian, the heart of the matter lays, more than in earthquakes prediction, in science communication. However, and without making light of the experts’ mistake, this sentence seems exaggerated and unfair, using the experts as a scapegoat for the poor management of the situation before, during and after the disaster.

Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes… natural disasters always take by surprise population and authorities. In L’Aquila, though, the most extraordinary fact was the disproportionate of the damages considering that the seism was a moderate event (5.8 on the Richter scale). Something similar happened in Lorca (Spain) in May 2011, where an earthquake of 5.1 on the Richter scale, in addition to nine deaths, the losses amount to more than 300 million Euros. Although these events did not surprised the experts on the subject considering their geographic location, they did revealed the great vulnerability and shortages of the two countries in terms of managing of disasters, by highlighting deficiencies in buildings and catching civil protection mechanisms completely off guard. [1,2]

In this matter, the effective transmission of knowledge from the experts to the population, and most of all, to authorities and policy makers turns to be crucial, not only for the management of disasters once they happened, but also for progressing as much as possible in the field of perception and managing of the risk [2], what would be a key factor in the earthquake in L’Aquila.

1306112641-lorca-after-the-earthquakes--spain_700377As for the case of Lorca, the issue becomes even more complicated since in an article recently published by Nature Geoscience, the authors suggested that the exploitation of aquifers in the area influenced the occurrence of the earthquake. Could this news put again on the agenda the already controversial matter of aquifers overexploitation? The economy of the southeast of Spain is strongly based on the agriculture (fruit and vegetables from that area are exported all over Europe).

In this regions, characterized by a semiarid climate and water scarcity, intensive exploitation of aquifers became a common practice. It cannot be argued that this has reported important socioeconomic benefits. However, effects of the overexploitation of aquifers have also appeared in the form of fall of piezometric levels, loss of wetlands, rising of water salinity [3], modification of the flow in rivers, and soil compacting, all these issues enhancing desertification.

This is a complex subject, which has lead to conflicts at local and regional levels, used as a missile among politic parties and which should be tackled soon in order to fulfill the requirements of the Water Framework Directive, looks now like another piece of the puzzle of the seismic risk.  How difficult will it be to integrate building standards, urban planning, risk prevention and mechanisms of response to emergencies with the exploitation of ground water? It looks quite difficult; however, the solution demands an effective communication to avoid fatal consequences in future earthquakes and maybe, sentences like the one in Italy.

By Tamara Coello/ tcoellog@gmail.com.

 

References

[1] Alexander, D.E., 2010. The L’Aquila Earthquake of 6 April 2009 and Italian Government Policy on Disaster Response. Journal of Natural Resources Policy Research, 2(4):325-342.

[2] Alfaro, P., González, M., Brusi, D., López Martín, J.A., Martínez Díaz, J., García Mayordomo, J., Benito, B., Murphy, P., Nájera, A. and Villalba, R.,  2012. Lessons learned from the 2011 Lorca Earthquake. Enseñanza de las Ciencias de la Tierra, 19(3):245-260.

[3] Molina, J.L., García Aróstegui, J.L., Benavente, J., Varela, C., Hera, A. and López Geta, J.A., 2009. Aquifers Overexploitation in SE Spain: A Proposal for the Integrated Analysis of Water Management. Water Resources Management, 23(13):2737-2760.

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