Exceptional effort reaps results
The village of Vernazza in Italy’s Cinque Terre looks picture postcard perfect. Its multi-coloured houses tumble down to a tiny harbour, framed by the hills that surround them which stretch to the sea in a mix of wild plants, vineyards and olive groves. It is linked to its neighbours only by boat, by footpaths and by a railway that, boring through the rock, is a triumph of engineering.
Life is not always idyllic however. Last autumn there was exceptionally heavy rain which led to landslides rushing through the narrow streets, wrecking homes, taking down power lines and killing three people. Their bodies were eventually washed up somewhere near St Tropez in France.The entire village was evacuated for clean-up and restoration of power and water.
So you might expect to see a pretty devastated place. Not at all. There is the occasional building still undergoing work, but the village is pretty near pristine. This evidently is the result of a lot of effort, and money. This is even more surprising, given that Italy does not have an ideal reputation for clearing up after disasters. The earthquake at L’Aquila, for example, abandoned many to temporary homes for an unforgivably long time.
So how did Vernazza do it? It is a small, relatively contained community. And it lives on tourism, with most visitors in rented rooms rather than massive hotels – for which there is no space. Footpaths are maintained to a high level (although one, between Manarolo and Corniglia was destroyed by another landslide three years ago and has not yet reopened, forcing visitors onto a longer and even more picturesque route). Visitors are charged 5 Euro a day to use them. If Vernazza, often described as the jewel of the Cinque Terre, had not got its act together, the results would have been far more devastating for the economy than the initial disaster.
The UK has just achieved the near impossible with the Olympics. The inhabitants of Vernazza have done something similar on a far smaller scale. Both deserve congratulation.