Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Smell Naples, and Die!

Happy New Year, Naples!

The famous Italian city, known worldwide for its beauty and magic (along with chaos ...) is expecting a miracle from its patron saint, San Gennaro.

In 2007, Naples and its province have seen the emergence of a big scandal in the waste management area, leaving the streets piled up with garbage. At this time, an estimated 100,000 tons of rubbish are left rotting in the streets and the exasperated inhabitants are showing their frustration and despair by setting it on fire.

On this New Year's Eve, firemen had to put out 130 rubbish fires which led to a dioxin pollution alert. The health risks posed by the piles of rubbish left in the streets have forced the closure of schools. A recent study coordinated by the World Health Organisation showed increased mortality rates among people living near illegal waste dumps in the region.

How is this possible in a metropolis, in a famous city, in a so-called developed country, that is a (founding) member of the European Union? Political mismanagement, conflicting interests and mob influence are the answers.

The Italian Government's grip on the waste management industry in the south of the country is historically less than vigorous, with environmental NGOs fingering organised crime groups as part of the problem. The Camorra has infiltrated parts of the waste management industry in Naples, and a significant part of the budget appears to be disappearing into the pockets of the mafia.

In Naples and the surrounding Campania region the Camorra criminal clans target waste disposal and the unregulated dumping of industrial waste. The ensuing environmental damage, is well documented. The government also claims that the clans are involved in the transport of municipal waste.

This summer, the European Commission (EC) has urged Rome to tackle the problem and has said it considers the region's waste disposal installations inadequate, posing serious problems for human health and the environment. The situation constitutes a violation of EU waste legislation.

In parallel the EC is assessing government plans to open four new waste landfill sites in Campania, checking their compliance with EU law and to see if they will help solving the region's waste problems, especially in the longer term.

The EC has sent Rome a formal letter of warning, the first step in a legal process which could eventually see Italy racking up huge fines.

Now that 2007 is done, now what? The situation has been left unchanged. The leftist government of Romano Prodi, as well as the leftist authorities in Naples (Mayor Iervolino and Governor of the province Bassolino) do not seem to have impacted matters. One should expect to see emergency measures being taken, like sending the Army to clean the streets for a while. Not so in Italy.

I try to imagine what it's like to be a Neapolitan citizen, an honest worker paying heavy taxes and returning home at night, exhausted, just to see a new pile of rubbish in front of the door...

Poor Europe ... Your leaders have abandoned you!

- Filed in Articles on "On the Record" -


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