blog | 25 Oct 2012

L’Aquila sentence – A step backwards in our efforts to mitigate seismic risk

Over the past decades, local, national and international organisations all over the globe have worked relentlessly and invested significant resources in efforts aimed at raising societal awareness on earthquake risk and at promoting the introduction of effective mitigation measures that will limit the human and economic consequences brought about by such natural events.

Such noble efforts, carried out by several thousands of individuals worldwide, who dedicate, often on a voluntary basis, their professional lives to serving the wider community, have been deemed as wholly irrelevant and inconsequential by the Italian judicial system, who passed a court-case sentence that sends us hundreds if not thousands of years back in time.

Indeed, by convicting, this past 22nd of October 2012, seven scientists and officials to six years of jail for manslaughter, the Italian judge has essentially stated that earthquake casualties are not caused by the collapse of vulnerable structures, nor by the lack of enforcement of earthquake-resistant design and construction, nor by the failure of local governmental bodies in introducing seismic retrofitting campaigns, nor by the absent demand for demonstrated earthquake-resistance when one acquires or rents a new house or property, nor by the reduced availability of credit or other financial mechanisms that promote a pro-active attitude regarding seismic safety, nor by the inexistence of urban planning policies that consider local seismic hazard, nor by the only sporadic interest of the media in increasing societal awareness and pressure on governments to address the vulnerability and lack of resilience of communities to earthquakes, nor by the inability of judicial systems to rapidly and effectively responsabilise those who knowingly disrespect seismic design codes, but rather can instead be solely attributed to a perceived failure from scientists in adequately communicating risk to the population during an earthquake swarm.

This l’Aquila-based judge who passed on this verdict, and the underlying Italian judicial system that allowed such a non-objective emotions-driven court case to take place, are utterly and unequivocally flawed, and we cannot but to express our unreserved solidarity to the seven wrongly convicted individuals, and hope that this farcical and irrational court decision will be urgently quashed.

Those of us believing in disaster risk reduction activities and in the building of a safer society for all cannot but speak out against this verdict, and its underlying implications and consequences.

Rui Pinho

Please note that this blog post represents the personal views of the author. Read also GEM's statement on the l'Aquila sentence.


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