A high tide overwhelmed 85 per cent of Venice recently, drowning parts of the Italian city in six feet of water. Boats were pushed ashore, sweeping through buildings, knocking over groceries in stores, and library books from shelves. A council meeting was cancelled, and schools were closed. Both tourists and residents were forced to make their way around streets with waters up to their waist. An elderly man was electrocuted and died at home after he attempted to turn on a pump.

The Venice Flooding and Climate Change
The Venice Flooding and Climate Change

Worst since ’66

These high tides are similar to those that have occurred here around twice in every 10 years. This year’s flooding, however, was the worst since 1966. There are a number of factors involved, such as a billion-dollar project discarded by a political scandal, the weather, the moon, sinking, and climate change. The city’s future could well be determined by how it decides to handle these issues from hereon in. Prior to the floods, a full moon shone over strong southerly winds and heavy rain, which combined to see the tidewater rise at unusually high levels. Climate change isn’t helping the overflow, either. As sea levels rise and ice melts, Venice is at greater risk.

Venice is referred to as a floating city but, in actuality, it’s sinking. It’s composed of around 100 islands within a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea. Due to shifting tectonic plates below and water being pumped for industrial use earlier in the century, the city sank close to five inches from 1950-1970 and continues to do so around one-fifth of an inch each year. Residents of Venice know about these threats, which explains the frustration felt among advocates, engineers, policymakers, and scientists over why it’s been unable to prevent the recent destruction. Environmental scientist Jane da Mosto cites the main contributing factors as human failures, as opposed to Mother Nature. She said that decision making and planning needs to improve. She also said that big infrastructure calls for improved science and technology.

The $6bn MOSE

Venice has invested over $6bn on a flood-barrier system that has been nicknamed MOSE. While it broke ground in 2003 and was given a deadline of 2011, it has failed to materialise. It would have protected tides up to 10 feet tall, but it’s behind schedule, over budget, and beleaguered with a scandal over corruption. Giorgio Orsoni, the former mayor of the city, resigned in 2014. He and other officials were arrested after being accused of embezzling money intended for MOSE.

However, the flood-barrier system hasn’t been without other controversies. Environmentalists are concerned that MOSE could prove harmful to the lagoon’s ecosystems. And as sea levels continue to rise, there’s an expiration date put on the scheme’s utility.  MOSE was supposed to protect the city for 50-100-years, but recent studies claim that it could be underwater within 100 years if enough isn’t done to combat climate change.