MESSINA, ITALY - 8 SEPTEMBER 2021: Children chase a rat in one of Messina's slums, in Messina, Italy, on September 8th 2021.
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.