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Why Naples is drowning in garbage

  • Story Highlights
  • Rubbish is piling up on the streets of Naples, with municipal dumps full
  • Many commentators question the role of the local mafia in the award of contracts
  • More than $2.5B in emergency funds has been spent on the problem over the years
  • One dump was going to be a golf course -- residents furious it is being re-opened
  • Next Article in World »
From Alessio Vinci, CNN's Rome bureau chief and correspondent
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ROME, Italy (CNN) -- The garbage crisis in Naples encompasses the worst Italian clichés, and in particular those of the southern part of this lovely peninsula: mismanagement, political interference, mafia profiteering and the ability of those responsible to deflect the attention and the blame elsewhere.

There is a popular saying here that roughly goes like this: everybody is competent enough (to find a solution) but nobody is responsible (for actually carrying it out).

In many parts of the world waste disposal is a business -- and usually it is a good business. Garbage can be transformed into various sources of energy and then sold for a profit. In Naples, garbage is also good business, but in the sense that millions, if not billions, of euros have been wasted -- and nobody really knows how.

The problem is as old and ugly as rotten trash. The region's dumps reached full capacity more than a decade ago, and since then a state of emergency has been declared every year. Eight different commissioners have been appointed, but they have all failed to solve the problem. State of emergency means government money: €1.8 billion (more than $2.5 billion) in emergency funds have been devolved to deal with the problem.

It is still difficult to find out where or how that money has been spent. Incinerators that were supposed to be built were never finished, either because the companies in charge of constructing them could not finish the job, or else because magistrates stopped the work, pending ongoing criminal investigations into alleged mafia involvement.

One Italian newspaper suggested that a good 20% of the money went to pay for the salaries of those in charge of coming up with a solution to the problem.

More worrying perhaps, is another suggestion: that the local mafia, known as the Camorra, is taking advantage of the situation. As the crisis has worsened over the years, so the Camorra's profits, estimated now at around €1 billion (roughly $1.45 billion), are alleged to have increased.

How does the local mafia make money? The Naples prosecutor in charge of environmental crimes says city government officials use the state of emergency to quickly award contracts which otherwise would have to be checked by complicated anti-racketeering legislation.

Once they receive the money, companies linked to the underworld dispose of the waste either in the open or, ironically, at regular city dumps, even if they are overflowing. The mafia clans have now managed to burrow their way so deeply into the system that every attempt to fix the problem has proved futile.

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But why are citizens protesting now? Well, the government wants to re-open a previously shut dump to dispose of 3,700 tons of waste which is laying in the streets of Naples and surrounding areas. The problem is that when the site was closed years ago, locals were promised that a golf course would be built there. As a result, many residents invested savings to construct apartments and residences in the vicinity -- in some cases just a few yards away from the site.

They are now waking up to a mountain of trash instead of 18 holes. A rotten deal indeed. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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