Italy Struggles to Rebuild in Time for G-8 Summit

Around 100,000 homeowners in the earthquake-stricken town of l’Aquila, in central Italy, have filed for financial aid to rebuild their primary homes destroyed or damaged in the April 6 tremors. Curiously, l’Aquila only has about 70,000 registered homeowners. “There is obviously a discrepancy in the numbers, and we need to check it quickly to determine the reason for it,” Massimiliano Cordeschi, a regional official, conceded blithely in a television interview Wednesday.

Meanwhile, reconstruction of the ancient town nestled in the Abruzzi Mountains — where almost every structure suffered some damage — has been held up pending the investigation, with thousands still living in tents.

The Italian parliament, which thought it had voted sufficient government funds to cover all the reconstruction expenses, is going to have to think again: The claims pouring in from homeowners total twice that amount.

Time is also a factor because Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, this year’s host of the annual G-8 summit, chose l’Aquila as the summit’s venue to show off the speed and effectiveness of Italy’s recovery efforts following a major disaster.

At this rate of progress, l’Aquila will still be badly scarred by the devastation when some 20 world leaders, including President Barack Obama, arrive for the summit on July 8. In addition to Obama, the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Japan, Italy and Russia — along with those of a number of leading emerging economies such as China and Brazil — will attend.

Space in the military school where the meeting will take place — one of the few buildings left undamaged — is so limited that participating leaders have been asked to pare down the number of aides they bring with them. The White House has told the Italians it will comply and has promised to cut down the U.S. presidential traveling team to 400, which is less than half the usual size.

Berlusconi apparently believes that l’Aquila’s widespread damage will still make a fitting backdrop to the summit’s main topics — the global economic crisis, and the war in Afghanistan. As they wrestle with the financial challenges facing their respective nations, the leaders may also take some comfort from the fact that the Bank of Italy’s gold reserves are stored in the vaults underneath them. The school doubles as Italy’s Fort Knox.