Since the mid-1990s the Italian government declared the state of emergency for waste disposal in several Italian regions (Lazio, Calabria, Sicilia, Campania). Lack of modern technology for waste storage and treatment, an inefficient bureaucratic apparatus and Camorra, a local Mafia, involvement into the business of waste disposal created the current ecological disaster. Today, after local discontents mounted and people from Campania took the streets to protest against the profound degradation of local neighborhoods literally flooded by garbage, the problem of waste management emerged as one of the most urgent national problems.
There is growing evidence that the accumulation of waste in Campania has heavily contaminated the natural environment and has determined a sudden drop in the health condition of local inhabitants. According to a recent study of the World Health Organization, such contamination reached dangerous levels and has produced a considerable increase in the number of deaths caused by cancer, respiratory illnesses, and also genetic malformations.
The Government has been unable to solve the crisis, while with its lack of intervention it has allowed local organized crime to profit from a very lucrative business. As also confirmed by the Camorra boss Gaetano Vassallo, of the Casalesi cartel, since 1982 when the Government approved the law for special waste disposal, Camorra has been active in opening illegal landfills creating a complex network of entrepreneurs and government officials from various Italian regions. Ultimately, silence was imposed on the situation and the current ecological disaster became the only possible outcome of years of mismanagement and corruption.
For 15 years, the Health and Environment Campania Network (Rete Campania Salute Ambiente) and the Regional Campania Waste Coordination (Coordinamento Regionale Rifiuti della Campania), the two main local grassroots committees, have been denouncing the criminal links and the environmental and health risks of many landfills. They also proposed alternative waste disposal plans which should be more participative and run by citizens to prevent further Camorra’s infiltrations. So far the Government has excluded them from decision-making processes adopting measures that have only increased public unrest. However, after the recent elections, especially in Naples, political changes have taken place in local administrations and politicians seem to be more receptive to suggestions coming from local committees. Nonetheless, the path toward a final solution of the problem is still very difficult.
In the last few years civil responses have increased and indignation mounted among people from different sectors of the population. Local demonstrations and direct actions have taken place in various areas of Campania. Occupations of landfills, petitions to local courts and marches have tried to break the silence and to call for the attention of national and regional governments. Here we present only some of them.
The descriptions that follow are taken from a report of ASUD onlus:
– The struggle against the construction of the Acerra thermovalorizor
Local committees evolved in opposition to the construction of the incinerator and in favour of more sustainable waste management, aiming to preserve an area already heavily impacted by waste and industrialisation. On the 29th of August 2004 a popular protest against the project was met with violent repression by both the police and army, profoundly affecting the local and regional movements and creating an atmosphere of fear among the local population. It became a symbolic moment illuminating the government’s institutional rigidity and willingness to resort to violence toward civil society demands for participation in waste management. It was also a key event in uniting local committees and organisations at a regional level. After years of struggle, the thermovalorizor was inaugurated on March 26th 2009 and authorised to burn any type or quality of waste, whether it adhered to norms or not, from ecoballs to unpacked waste.
– The Pianura battle
The Pisani landfill in Pianura (in the province of Naples) was in use for over 50 years and closed in 1996 due to its saturation, suspected violation of norms, and the dangers it posed to the environment and human health. The sanitation of the area was planned, but never implemented. During the last “waste emergency” in January 2008, the authorities reopened the landfill to receive waste for stocking until the completion of the Acerra thermovalorizor, where it was to be burnt. In reaction to the re-opening, the local population mobilised only to be violently repressed by police. Local committees, associations and activists involved magistrates however, and the landfill was sequestered on the 21st of January 2008. Enquiries into health issues and groundwater contamination led to the closure of the site as the impacts on illnesses were investigated. The landfill never did reopen and the so-called “Pianura Battle” became a symbol of victory for civil society mobilisation.
– The Acerra-Napoli March “The March of 1000 Yeses”
The adoption of Decree 90 in May 2008 announced planned infrastructural works and waste management measures that would threaten the entire region. In response, a march was organised for the 21st of June 2008 from Acerra to Naples for “Environment, Justice and Democracy”. The point of the demonstration was to draw attention to civil society demands for inclusion in consultations for the management of their territory. It also helped unify all of the committees and associations struggling for civil society participation and more sustainable plans for waste management.
Uttaro in the province of Caserta has one of the most dense concentrations of landfills in the region. It is a small area with a population of about 200 000, and has been severely impacted by irresponsible waste management. Until the 1990s there was just one landfill (Migliore Carolina) with a capacity of 2 000 000 m3, and by the end of the decade two other smaller landfills were operating in the area. With the most recent waste emergencies two further sites were opened, another landfill was created overnight in 2005 and a new transit storage site designated, until it was later sequestered. A cave in the area of the Uttaro site found to contain illegal waste was scheduled for sanitation under regional plans in 2005, but in November 2006 authorities decided to use the site as a landfill and planned for its extension, leading to civil society mobilisation and the creation of the Waste Emergency Committee. For 3 days in April 2007, this Committee occupied the land and blocked the transit of trucks until they were forcibly removed by police. The land was then militarised to “guarantee the function of the plants”. The Committee continued its action however through a penal accusation and a legal appeal on the grounds of severe mismanagement of the site. On August 3rd Judge Como ordered the closure of the site due to its high concentration of toxic substances. This was another victory for civil society mobilisation, but 8 million t of waste are still concentrated in the area.
Every summer in Naples the situation becomes awful: the warm weather causes the decomposition of garbage, increasing the smell and the risk of disease. As a result, people’s anger explode mostly with burned trash bins, and insurrections often solved by local authorities with the intervention of the army which patrol the areas.
Sources and for more information: