ROME (Reuters) – Demonstrators from the earthquake-stricken city of L’Aquila clashed with police in central Rome on Wednesday as they tried to get close to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s office, witnesses said. At least one person was injured and police in riot gear were trying to control the crowd.
Comment: Who would have “thunk it” . More than 15 months after the devastating earthquake struck Aquila and the surrounding region of Abruzzo, some of the people affected are in Rome – some 2 1/2 hours away by car – protesting against the government’s slow reconstruction response.
I see their point. I was in central Aquila in May and it looked much the same. At least the older part of the city that I saw was not much different: condemned buildings were still – condemned; the public had limited access to most public places; the fate of certain parts of the city was uncertain.
Uncertainty and impotence are hard to deal with – especially for the traumatized. I remember the first time I was in Aquila after the earthquake. I met a woman who was standing right outside the well-guarded entrance to the old city. She lived there before the quake. Now she could only long to return to her residence. Her tears were those of frustration, sadness and nostalgia, but mostly trauma: “Look at the buildings, ” she said. “They have been damaged. Yes. But we have been destroyed. Our lives have been destroyed.”
I was moved deeply by this woman’s tears and the sense of impotence and uncertainty that her voice betrayed. This woman was quite unsure about what lay ahead for her and her family. It was at that moment that it became clear what the theme for the work of CTF-SOS DRS in Abruzzo would be : our efforts would be directed at reconstructing people’s lives.
Governments often have the primary role in reconstructing buildings and stores and homes after disasters. And that is good. I have seen, though, that they are often less concerned with reconstructing people’s lives. That is not so good. It is human beings that suffer the most from disasters: they lose loved ones, homes, jobs, health and often a dreamed-for-future. Nothing will ever be the same again – for many.
The least that governments can do for people after disasters is to somehow provide their traumatized citizens with some sense of security, certainty about the future and empowerment. “The protest in the centre of Rome is a blow for Berlusconi, who has repeatedly presented his hands-on response to the disaster in L’Aquila as one of the main successes of his two-year old government…residents say that after a flurry of headline-grabbing initiatives many have been left to fend for themselves as reconstruction money ran out. We lost everything and they took us for a ride,” one demonstrator shouted.”
I don’t know if the woman that I met in Aquila was in Rome that day protesting the government’s slow reconstruction response. I doubt it, but you never know. Even grandmothers can be vociferous when they feel what is due them is delayed in its coming. Somehow I can’t imagine this grandmother clashing with the police though. On the other hand, I can see her at the ballot box. Caveat Berlusconi!
The people in Haiti are starting to protest the lack of a government response to their plight. Reconstruction is minimal and a significant number of the people in the 1300 camps are hot and frustrated. Many public employees, or so I have heard, have not been paid in a while. The situation here could deteriorate quickly. And recourse to the ballot box is a not-so-well established tradition here in Haiti. At least not as well as it is in Italy. So who knows what will happen…
We are not at almost 6 months after the quake. I believe that the next 9 months in Haiti will pass much more slowly than it did in Italy. And if it does, the natives are sure to get restless. I have already seen many who are – even grandmothers. I hope we don’t see any of them clashing with the police here in Port au Prince or elsewhere. Stay tuned.