Thursday, December 31, 1998 Published at 01:52 GMT
Venice flood barriers shelved
Venice is facing the possibility of death by drowning
A controversial billion-dollar engineering project to help protect Venice from flooding has been shelved by the Italian Government.
Environment Minister Edo Ronchi said money would first be spent on a big clean-up to prevent the lagoon turning into "a bowl of pollution".
This will include dredging city canals and raising the level of streets.
The decision to postpone the scheme indefinitely comes after a team of government experts rejected the proposal earlier this month, sparking outrage from the local authorities.
They say the city is increasingly vulnerable to flooding, because of the gradual erosion of its foundations and abnormally high tides caused by global warming.
Local authorities said that by 2050, much of Venice could be awash permanently. Earlier this century, flooding only occurred an average of five times a year.
The city is built on more than 100 small islands, protected by a natural lagoon. Temporary raised walkways allow life to function much as normal during unusually high tides in winter.
But the frequency of these tides, which eat away at the foundations of the historic city, has increased.
The number of flood emergencies declared during the past 10 years has tripled.
Last year, floodwaters transformed St Marks Square - the lowest point in the city - into an outdoor swimming pool.
The rejected plan had been opposed by ecologists who said that cutting off the city's freshwater lagoon from the Adriatic Sea would condemn it to a slow death.
Successive Italian governments have been wary of committing themselves to the huge expenditure involved in closing off the lagoon, while at the same time leaving it open to shipping for the nearby port of Margara.