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Latest update : 2008-05-21

As Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi prepares to hold his first cabinet meeting in Naples on Wednesday, the city is still grappling with tonnes of waste rotting in the streets, in a long-standing crisis that shows no sign of ending.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his cabinet arrived in Naples on Wednesday to discuss Italy’s controversial immigration policies and waste disposal problem.  They narrowly missed the city's stench, smoke, and blocked roads – the aftermath of over 90 trash fires started by Neapolitans Monday night in protest over the tens of thousands of tonnes of waste that have accumulated in the streets.

"(Tuesday) morning I saw trucks trying to clean the streets before Berlusconi’s arrival, but the suburbs are still filthy. People plug their noses as they walk the streets,” says FRANCE 24 correspondent Alexis Masciarelli, reporting from Naples.

Berlusconi’s presence is expected to put pressure on the local government to find a solution.  Earlier this year, he had made a campaign promise to move the government to Naples if the rubbish crisis was not resolved.

The rubbish fires are the culmination of endless waste piling that goes back fifteen years, and that has reached a breaking point in the last six months.

In 1994, the Italian government attempted to wrest the waste disposal business from the mafia group known as the Camorra – a move that arguably created more problems than it solved.  

The Camorra continues to hold a monopoly over waste disposal in Naples, and since they no longer own the refuse dumps, they took to dumping and burning toxic refuse in the countryside. Camorra gangs have also bought plots of land at reduced prices and turned them into illegal dumps.

The noxious materials emitted by the piled trash, including asbestos, have been linked with cancer and other serious ailments in the region- so much so that the area surrounding Naples has been dubbed “The Triangle of Death.”

The European Union has been putting pressure on Naples to take action. Stavros Dimas, EU Environmental Commissioner, was quoted in the Tuesday edition of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera as saying, that the EU “is prepared to help Italy with means and know how, but we need the will of the other side to resolve the problem.”
Not only the Camorra, but also the local Campanian government and private northern Italian companies have been blamed for the crisis, the latter of whom allegedly hire the Camorra backhandedly to dispose of waste in a cheap and illegal fashion.

Masciarelli believes that EU involvement has had some effect: “Italy is under great scrutiny at the moment, not just over the trash issue but also because of the immigration policies. The EU statement has put Italy under pressure to resolve the issue.”

Date created : 2008-05-21