World Summit in Italy Puts Spotlight on Earthquake Victims

06 July 2009

Leaders of the world's most powerful nations meet in central Italy this week (July 8-10) for the annual G8 summit. The agenda is expected to cover a wide variety of issues, from the ongoing global economic crisis to Afghanistan, Iran and aid to Africa and other poverty stricken regions. But the meeting has a very special significance for summit host, Italy.

It is a chance for world leaders to meet face to face to discuss global issues. If not held in major world capitals, G8 meetings have tended to take place in secure, but luxurious locations. The tranquil countryside of central Italy's Abruzzo region seems to fit the bill.

But, this year is different. This G8 is being held in a spartan military academy barracks. And, it is in the middle of a region still reeling from a devastating earthquake just three months ago.

Damaged building in the town of Onna
Damaged buildings in the town of Onna
The epicenter of the April 6 quake lay near the town of L'Aquila, but the devastation spread far and wide. Nearly 300 people were killed and more than 65,000 made homeless.

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi decided to host this year's G8 summit near L'Aquila to highlight the plight of the people in the area.

The head of Italy's Civil Protection Agency, Guido Bertolaso, says that can make a difference.

"Can you imagine what does it mean to have here the President of the United States of America, of the Russian Federation, of the Peoples' Republic of China. The worldwide attention will be focused for a week on L'Aquila," he said. "This is the best guarantee for the homeless people that they will not be forgotten."

Tent city in the town of L'Aquila
Tent city in the town of L'Aquila
Bertolasso thinks it will encourage people to come back to the region and will bring tourists and badly needed income.

But local reactions are mixed. Amid those who lost their homes in the earthquake and have sought shelter in tent camps, some believe having the G-8 here is important.

But others like Carla D'Ascenzo doubt it will bring change.

"I have to laugh - nothing will change," she said. "OK, there is a summit ... why do not they come here, look at the camp, look at the tents, look at the way we are living."

It will be nearly impossible for world leaders to not take note of the devastation caused by the quake and the ongoing difficulties people here face.

But, no doubt, other agenda items will figure prominently - from the ongoing global economic recession and how to avoid a repeat, to climate change, regional security, the war in Afghanistan, the situation in Iran and aid to the world's poorest nations.

And summits inevitably mean tightened security measures and worries about protests that often turn violent.

Italian authorities say they have put preventive measures in place. And, Bertolaso says he's confident protests will not be an issue here.

"Do you see someone who will want to come here to make some protests among the tents, among the homeless, among those who have suffered from the earthquake?" he asked. "If they are, I think the people of L'Aquila will stop them, not the police."

There is a general sense here that people are eager for the spotlight, even if briefly - to feel they have not been forgotten. In the end they hope though that by coming here, the G8 leaders may bring some long-term benefits to get this region back on its feet.