MESSINA, ITALY - 8 SEPTEMBER 2021: Sebastiano De Luca (58), poses for a portrait by the obstructed canal which causes floodings in the slum he lives in, in Messina, Italy, on September 8th 2021.
“I don’t trust anyone anymore,” said Sebastiano De Luca, 58, who lives in a block of shacks amassed between an obstructed canal and the morgue of Messina’s biggest hospital.
Promising a house was a powerful electoral leverage, and over decades politicians only visited the slums ahead of elections to exchange votes with promises. Mr. De Luca once ran with a local candidate bringing him hundreds votes from the slums on the assurance of distributing houses.
“He made a fool of me,” he said on a recent morning, after he had spent the night barefoot under the rain, freeing the canal from trash bags and waste to keep his street from flooding.
In 1908, a devastating earthquake struck Messina, a city wedged between pine and eucalyptus forests and the narrow straits separating Sicily from the Italian mainland. About 90 percent of the city collapsed, killing half of the population. From the rubble, authorities built temporary shacks in anticipation of sturdier housing for the displaced. More than a hundred years later, about 6,500 Italians still live in makeshift hovels scattered around the city. After decades of broken promises, salvation appears to be triggered by a more recent disaster: the coronavirus spread across the close quarters of the slums generating a public health alarm that attracted national attention.
Last May, the government inserted within a covid relief package an allocation of 100 million euros to free Messina from the barracks within three years.
In the humid huts, built in large part with asbestos, residents suffer from high rates of cancer, asthma and pneumonia and on average live seven years less than the rest of the population, according to the local Community Foundation.