Flooding across northern Italy, including Venice, is now a regular occurrence (Picture: Roberto Trombetta)

At least 15 people died and more than 36,000 were forced from their homes due to heavy floods in north eastern Italy last week. Violent downpours left almost 20,000 people without power. Roads in Forli, a flood-hit city in the north east of Italy, are now lined with people’s possessions rendered unusable.

Six months’ worth of rain fell in 36 hours in the surrounding Emilia-Romagna region, with the floods described as the worst the country has seen in a century. The rains have caused over 305 landslides and damaged or closed over 500 roads in the area.

Six months ago, 12 people died on the southern island of Ischia in a landslide triggered by torrential rain. Eleven more were killed by flash floods in the central region of Marche last September. Last July, amid a heatwave and Italy’s worst drought for at least seven decades, an ice avalanche in the Italian Alps killed 11.

“Climate change is here and we are living the consequences,” Paola Pino d’Astore, an expert at the Italian Society of Environmental Geology, told Reuters.“It isn’t some remote prospect, it is the new normal,”

The WWF environmental group in Italy claims efforts to redirect rivers or build too near them have led to the elimination of water absorbing vegetation. “We need to open up our rivers, to give them more space,” Andrea Agapito, who leads the group’s water programme, said.

Farmers’ group Coldiretti says the number of extreme weather events recorded last summer was five times the number a decade ago. They included tornadoes, giant hail stones and lightning strikes.

But years of often corrupt unregulated building and untrammelled industrial-scale agriculture have worsened the climate threat. Pino d’Astore notes, “Cement is impermeable, so water just runs across the top of it. Unfortunately, this crisis is man-made.”

A weather station near Syracuse on the southern island of Sicily last summer recorded 48.8 degrees Celsius. That is thought to be the highest temperature ever measured in Europe. Italy’s average temperatures over the past ten years are already 2.1 degrees Celsius higher than in pre-industrial times.

The fascist-led government bizarrely called for a lifting of ­building regulations in response to the floods. It then announced a scheme to stop the floods—but many are sceptical.

Italy responded to devastating floods in 2014 with an ambitious scheme to combat instability. The plans were dropped by the next government, with £7 billion remaining unspent.

Sinn Fein squeezes rivals in election win

After they attended the king’s coronation, the republicans of Sinn Fein were last week crowned the king of local government in Northern Ireland. The party emerged with 144 seats, an increase of 39 from the last council election in 2019. That left the once dominant Unionist DUP trailing 22 seats behind.

Almost one in every three votes cast went to Sinn Fein and it picked up new seats in 10 of the 11 “super” councils. Even in the council where it suffered its greatest loss last time—Derry and Strabane—the party secured seats for all of its 18 candidates. Sinn Fein also picked up some trophy seats in the unionist heartlands of Ballymena, Lurgan and Coleraine.

This was a council election which had nothing to do with councils.

It was a poll played out almost entirely against the backdrop of the Stormont parliament stalemate—and was a traditional sectarian headcount. Voters were frustrated at the lack of devolved government in the middle of a cost of living crisis and wary of further budget cuts coming down the line.

Sinn Fein had an added advantage. The Unionists DUP boycott of Stormont is effectively blocking Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill from becoming first minister. That helped mobilised the nationalist vote.

For the first time, nationalists outpolled unionists in first-preference votes. They gained roughly 40 percent of the vote, slightly higher than the unionists at about 38 percent.

Sinn Fein is a long way down its path of respectability in both the North and South. It puts a lot of effort into showing its fitness to run Irish capitalism.

One Ulster Unionist minister suggested Sinn Fein might scale back its ambition in the interest of preserving cross-community relations. A fall in Unionist votes overall means that the DUP was able to hold up better than some thought. That’s because they took votes from other unionist parties.

The left wing People Before Profit group also felt the squeeze. It has been reduced to two council seats. Michael Collins and Shaun Harkin held onto their seats in Belfast and Derry. But a further three sitting councillors lost their seats.

Meanwhile the anti-abortion republican Party Aontu has been wiped from the political landscape after losing its only two councillors.

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