Nature is neither benevolent nor unforgiving; her ways are sometimes mysterious to us, perhaps less mysterious to geologists whose warnings and suggestions are easily forgotten and cast aside, but reminders of the ineptness of our puny hybris are frequently presented in the media.

The recent tragedy that has struck Liguria, despite the dramatisation and personal tragedies within the havoc it has wreaked in this unique and picturesque region of north-western Italy, was no genuine surprise.

Driving through Liguria is a simple lesson for all, on how NOT to build and develop the landscape. The cities expand from the narrow coastline like probing fingers invading the valleys, the rivers and streams are channeled and drowned in concrete in a brutal and unnatural way, stifling their instinctive freedom to rise and fall in harmony with the seasons.

Liguria’s cloud-capped mountains are intensely forested and the humidity released by these sylvan environments, along with the heavy autumnal downpours and the spring snowmelt, forms thousands of lesser-known streams and rivulets echoing with laughter into a labyrinth of narrow valleys.

However, the natural course of the latter is often hindered by the absence of floodways and bypass channels, the foolish juxtaposition of private and commercial buildings in the proximity of the waterways and when they finally reach the cities, rivers are channeled underground, as if to forget about their existence, often, as was the case of Genua, without enough flexibility to match the recent increase of rainwater, one among the countless offspring of climate change.

In recent decades, the patterns of settlement, which consisted largely of major coastal settlements, like Genua, La Spezia or even Ventimiglia, and timeless villages in craggy and mountainous contexts, have come to include the urban sprawl that gnaws at the forested slopes of the inner valleys.

The answer to a budding population isn’t simply building anywhere and in any fashion. There are natural laws and the laws of the Earth aren’t the delusion of spiritual tree-huggers but plain common-sense revealed to us by both science and history.

According to Legambiente, Italy forfeits 500 squared kilometres of natural and agricultural land every year (it’s like losing the size Andorra every year!) to the surge and ripples of concrete and man-made urban and sub-urban structures suffocating the scenic and celebrated Italic landscape.

If one adds to this the enigmatic mechanisms of Italian politics and the incapacity of the local bureaucracy to make long-lasting and final decisions concerning patterns of human development and land management, one gets the feeling that this was not the last “natural disaster” in a long list of acts of political irresponsibility and negligence.

Consequently, in our attempt to tame and civilise the natural world, we forget that our laws are only inherent to our own society and that the enduring cycles that govern the nature of waterways, orography and the climactic patterns will always supersede our own whims and collective hybris.

If, like the Indonesian hotels flushed away by the monstrous tsunami of 2004, we will choose to reconstruct our invasive buildings in the same places, whether these be mangrove forests that act as shields against tsunamis or riversides in mountainous Liguria, our lessons will never be learned and all that will be remembered will be the flotsam and jetsam of human lives shattered by Nature’s rage.

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