Published January 13, 2015
The Italian government's plan to resolve Naples' garbage crisis may clear trash temporarily, but mafia control of waste disposal and politicians' inability to guarantee safe dumps means the problem will return, a noted expert on organized crime said Wednesday.
In the latest crisis, collectors stopped picking up garbage in Naples and the surrounding Campania region Dec. 21 because there was no more room for the trash at dumps. Furious residents have endured growing heaps of refuse in the streets.
Premier Romano Prodi on Tuesday announced a series of short- and long-term measures to resolve Naples' recurring crisis. He said three incinerators would be built, the army would be called in to remove trash piles, a new trash commissioner deal with the problem and cities across the region would implement recycling plans.
But Roberto Saviano, a writer and expert on the Neapolitan organized crime syndicate, the Camorra, said such measures do not address the underlying causes of the problem: the mob and politicians who are powerless to fight it.
"These solutions will get the trash off the streets but in the next year it'll return," he said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Naples and its surrounding region, Campania, have long been plagued by garbage crises; dumps are packed to overflowing, and local communities have blocked efforts to build new ones, citing health risks.
Saviano said the Camorra controls the entire cycle of garbage disposal in Campania, running the dumps, waste transport companies and other businesses, raking in what anti-mafia prosecutors estimate is $880 million per year.
Saviano has been under state protection since 2006, when "Gomorrah," his expose of the Camorra and its hold on everything from fashion to drug running and waste disposal, became a best-seller in Italy.
In the book, which was released in the United States last year, Saviano said Camorra-run companies routinely win contracts to dispose of toxic waste from northern Italian industries by underbidding competitors, then dispose of it illegally and untreated in Campania's rivers and dumps. Camorra-run companies also mix toxic waste with other materials and resell it as fertilizer, he said.
The government's inability to halt such practices — and reports of illnesses and cancer clusters in and around Campania waste treatment plants — have eroded the faith that residents have in politicians' pledges to keep waste areas safe, he said.
That distrust in government led to violent protests residents staged this week at the Pianura dump outside Naples, which the government wants to reopen after 11 years, he said.
"We must be clear," he said. "People rebel at Pianura, but they don't rebel in Lombardy (in northern Italy) when the government proposes a new dump. The people (here) don't have faith. Will there be toxic waste?"
He said similar distrust had delayed the long-planned construction of a high-tech incinerator for the area, because residents fear that toxic waste will be burned and released into the atmosphere.
Until the entire system of garbage disposal is changed — to remove organized crime's hold on it, and faith is restored in government — the periodic garbage crises will continue, he said.
On Wednesday, Prodi's minister for parliament relations, Vannino Chiti, briefed lawmakers on the government's plan and appealed to Campania residents to have faith in government institutions and to join in the fight against the Camorra.
"We are facing a serious, big test," he said. "We need to isolate those who are involved in violence and illegality."