As Zagreb Quake Anniversary Passes, Croatia’s Anger Grows

As Zagreb Quake Anniversary Passes, Croatia’s Anger Grows

A year after a powerful earthquake left thousands of people in Zagreb homeless, victims are dismayed and frustrated that reconstruction work has barely started.

Exactly a year after the Croatian capital Zagreb awoke to scenes of chaos from a 5.5-magnitude earthquake, reconstruction has not even started despite a post-earthquake reconstruction law that came into force last September,

Many citizens are angry as well as desperate. “We got a bunch of promises [and] a law we’ve been awaiting for six months. From then until today, we’re still trying to deal with its [law’s] extensiveness and complexity,” Vesna Blaskovic, from the recently founded association SOS Zagreb, told BIRN.

SOS Zagreb is demanding speed, fairness, transparency and less bureaucracy in post-quake reconstruction work.

Blaskovic has insight into the situation because shortly after the quake hit she started a Facebook group, “Earthquake in Zagreb”, which currently has more than 13,000 members.

“One year after the earthquake, we do not have a single multi-apartment building or family house in the city of Zagreb where reconstruction has begun based on the reconstruction law,“ Blaskovic noted.

She says some people have started to renovate their buildings on their own, and are not sure whether the money they spend will ever be returned to them.

A total of 25,000 buildings were damaged in the quake and more than 6,000 were rendered unusable, completely or temporarily. Almost all the damaged buildings, 98.5 per cent, were privately owned.

“Of those 6,000, only 185 buildings and family buildings in Zagreb have applied for structural renovation,“ Blaskovic stated.

According to her, this low figure “speaks of how complicated the law is, how difficult it is for people to cope with it, and how much not only the state but all the institutions have failed”.

Blaskovic says the Construction Ministry seems to be the worst “bottleneck”, as only 20 people there are working on reconstruction approval procedures.

Since December, she noted, the ministry has also had to deal with the reconstruction of a quake-hit town in central Croatia, which was later struck by another powerful earthquake.

Construction Minister Darko Horvat told private Nova TV on Sunday that the reconstruction was not stuck and that the process was proceeding “step by step”. The first machines working on reconstruction can be expected to be seen in June, he remarked.

The post-quake reconstruction law was originally intended for only the City of Zagreb and the surrounding area, but was amended in February, and its provisions extended to the areas hit last December.

The reconstruction of buildings destroyed in the December 29 quake in Sisak-Moslavina and Karlovac counties will be fully financed by the state as this area was already “in a difficult economic, social and demographic situation even before the earthquake”, officials said.

On the other hand, the state will cover only 60 per cent of the costs of reconstruction of damaged buildings in Zagreb, while local authorities must cover another 20 per cent. The last 20 per cent must be covered by the owner of each property.

Reconstruction of the capital, meanwhile, has become the subject of the local election campaign. Local elections are due in May and all the candidates are all vowing to implement reconstruction more effectively.

Blaskovic said she would not comment on the various candidates because SOS Zagreb has nothing to do with party politics, as the issue of rebuilding the city “goes beyond politics”.

“For whoever comes to power in Zagreb, and is in power in the country, the issue of reconstruction must be a priority,” she concluded.

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