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Rome is in the middle of a trash crisis. Piles of garbage are rotting in the streets, and doctors are warning about health hazards. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has the story.
(SOUNDBITE OF SEAGULLS SCREECHING)
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Flocks of seagulls have replaced traffic roar as the soundtrack of Roman life. No need for them to dive for fish in the sea 15 miles away when they can feast on garbage strewn across the city. Some neighborhoods have reported boars and foxes scavenging amid the refuse.
The Trevi Fountain is a top tourist site. Despite the 95 degrees, the square is packed with people tossing coins in the marble fountain. Zoe Houseman, visiting from North Carolina, found Rome much dirtier than expected.
ZOE HOUSEMAN: We came from Germany, and it was a lot more orderly and clean and well-kept. The streets are hot and messy and chaotic. There is uncollected trash all over the ground, cigarette butts.
POGGIOLI: Around the corner is Vincenzo Caiazzo's restaurant. With trash collection nearly halted, he says he and other shop owners joined forces to clean their streets.
VINCENZO CAIAZZO: (Through interpreter) When we arrive in the morning, there are seagulls and rats picking through the overflowing bins. It's disgusting. The Trevi Fountain is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it should be protected.
POGGIOLI: But, says Caiazzo, no one at City Hall says where they should dispose the trash. Rome produces on average 2,100 tons of waste every week. City Hall blames the crisis on the closure of two big waste collection plants for maintenance.
The situation is no better in the residential Monteverde neighborhood. At the Sashamia Caffe, owner Marco Rinaldi is furious. The stench from garbage bags piling up around the corner keeps customers away from his outdoor tables.
MARCO RINALDI: (Through interpreter) I pay the city 350 euros every two months for trash collection. I've decided to stop paying until they clean up this mess.
POGGIOLI: Rinaldi blames the mess on Mayor Virginia Raggi, widely accused of incompetence. She in turn claims it's an orchestrated plot to harm her and her party, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement. Negotiations are said to be underway to send some trash to other EU countries for disposal. Meanwhile, Rome's doctors' association warned of potential health hazards because in hot weather, rotting garbage attracts flies and cockroaches.
Rome has a long history of trash issues. In the past, prosecutors found close links between waste management companies and organized crime. And six years ago, the main collection site was shut down after the European Union ruled it didn't meet minimum standards.
BIANCA BISARRA: Nobody knows how to deal and how to do the job actually.
POGGIOLI: Bianca Bisarra is a born and bred Roman. After living and working for a few years in Shanghai, her hometown saddens her.
BISARRA: The mood of people, they're suffering. I would love to come back. But after staying abroad, Rome is very hard to reconnect with.
POGGIOLI: Even Pope Francis recently complained of Rome's decay and neglect. For centuries, city upkeep was the job of his many predecessors, whose warnings were inscribed in marble on city walls not far from the Vatican. Here's one from 1733 on Villa dei Cappellari - dumping trash here is explicitly forbidden under penalty of 25 scudi. The whistleblower, who remains secret, receives one third of the fine. The father will be held responsible for his culprit sons, the master for his guilty servants. Further penalties include corporal punishment.
Not only are today's penalties far more lenient, the trash crisis is so vast they're impossible to enforce. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA'S "REEL LIFE (EVOLUTION II)")
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