Naples, Italy Trashed by Garbage Crisis
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
People in Italy may need a peace deal to end the garbage crisis. The city of Naples is buried under mountains of uncollected trash. Yet residents are protesting the reopening of a dump that's believed to be a serious health hazard. Now a government trash czar has been given four months to fix this problem.
NPR's Sylvia Poggioli tells the story of garbage, the environment, and the local mafia.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: This is Pianura, a suburb just north of the Naples City center. It looks like a war zone. The stench in the air is unbearable. Thousands of plastic bags of rotting garbage cover the streets in places rising above the ground floor of apartment buildings.
Garbage collection in the Naples region stopped on December 21st because all landfills are full. Here in Pianura, cement blocks and tree trunks form improvised barricades, blocking all traffic except motorcycles.
The barricades are manned by local residents. At night, they're replaced by gangs of youth who often clash with police. Antonio Tufano(ph) points to a nearby hill where the grass is yellowed and trees looks stunted.
Mr. ANTONIO TUFANO: (Italian spoken)
POGGIOLI: They promised to create a national park here, Tufano says. It was supposed to be the lung of Naples. But actually, he adds, for 40 years this was the garbage bin of the Naples region and for northern industries. It's an ecological time bomb. The dump was closed 11 years ago. Since then, tennis courts and horse stables have been built nearby. But the dump has never been cleaned up.
Medical research shows local residents are getting very sick at unusually high rates. A middle-aged woman, Nuncia Marcella(ph), says every family around here has at least one relative who have died of cancer.
Ms. NUNCIA MARCELLA: (Italian spoken)
POGGIOLI: My mother died of leukemia, she says. My 28-year-old nephew died of leukemia. My sister and my aunt both died of liver tumors. A 2007 World Health Organization report documented a sharp increase in cancers and an 80 percent increase in fetal defects among those living near waste dumps in the region compared to the national average. There is little doubt who's to blame.
Neapolitan investigators single out the Camorra, the local equivalent of the Cosa Nostra mafia in Sicily, which anti-mafia magistrate Rafael Le Cantone(ph) says has turned garbage into gold.
Mr. RAFAEL LE CANTONE (Anti-mafia Magistrate): (Italian spoken)
POGGIOLI: The Camorra is involved in every aspect of the waste management cycle, he says - collection, transportation and disposal. The Camorra has buried an enormous quantity of toxic waste from northern industries in the region. Cantone says its profits are enormous, millions of euro a year.
Proper disposal of industrial waste is expensive. By offering cut-rate prices to northern companies, Camorra gangs dumped their toxic waste in both the region's legal and many illegal dumps. The gangs are also involved in stocking massive quantities of bales of waste destined to be burned in high-tech incinerators which still have not been built.
The National Anti-Mafia Parliamentary Committee also blames collusion between politicians and Camorristi, which has eroded residents' faith in the authorities.
In the 14 years since the crisis began, nearly $3 billion has disappeared into this pit of crime and corruption. After years of silence, Neapolitans have had enough.
(Soundbite of protest)
POGGIOLI: Wednesday evening, 10,000 people took to the streets to protest plans to reopen the Pianura dump and to vent their anger against local and national politicians. Some demonstrators picked up trash bags from the piles in the streets and placed them in front of government buildings.
Sabino Genovesi(ph) lives in the toney residential area he says has been spared the garbage crisis. But he worries the long-term repercussions will affect everyone and even the food chain is at risk.
Mr. SABINO GENOVESI: (Italian spoken)
POGGIOLI: My wife and I have stopped buying mozzarella made in areas near waste dumps, he says. Now we buy Parmalat milk, hoping that it really does come from Parma.
The garbage crisis has already damaged the local economy. There's hardly a tourist in sight in Naples. Foreign orders for regional food products from canned tomatoes to Limoncello liqueur have already dropped by 30 percent.
Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Naples.
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