Monday, December 7, 1998 Published at 18:44 GMT
Venice behind barriers
Venice under water - flood prevention discussed for decades
By Southern Europe Correspondent Orla Guerin
They might be designed to hold back the high tides, but they have not yet been tested against the flood of criticism they are likely to raise.
Critics say the barriers will only exacerbate the problems by causing environmental damage.
And things can get a lot worse. Back in 1966, when Venice was hit by the most serious floods in its history, the water rose to 1.8 metres (six feet). In recent years the flooding has been less dramatic, but more frequent.
Last year, for example, floodwaters transformed St Marks into a stunning outdoor swimming pool.
The project would cost some £1bn, but John Millerchip of the Programme to Safeguard Venice says that even at this price it would far from being an overall solution.
Opponents also argue that the barriers would damage the unique eco-system of the lagoon, which might be an important issue for Italy's Environment Minister, a prominent green. Pro-barrier groups fear he might throw out the plan, or at least try to buy some more time.
"The time for the analysis, the discussion, the scientific investigation is over. Now politicians have to take their own responsibility and have to decide."
For the thousands of tourists, though, the high tides are part of the attraction. But crossing St Mark's Square via makeshift pathways, or changing into wellington boots in the middle of a road is not so much fun for Venetians, who are leaving the city at the rate of 50 a week.
Abandonment is now a real threat to Venice, as well as a slow death by drowning.
In 1997 the centre of the city was flooded 80 times. According to experts, in 50 years' time there could be flooding every day.