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Mafia Kidnapping Sicily's Water

(ENS) BRUSSELS -- The European Commission giving the government of Italy just one month to clean up the waste crisis plaguing Naples and the rest of the Campania region or face a potentially costly lawsuit. Since just before Christmas, thousands of tons of garbage have been left uncollected by the roadsides because waste disposal sites are full.

The final written warning issued today by the Commission means that Italy will be hauled up before the European Court of Justice unless it brings arrangements for dealing with waste in the region fully into line with the requirements of EU waste legislation. Italy risks huge fines if the EU takes the country to court.

The Italian government estimates more than 250,000 metric tons of garbage have accumulated on the roads.

This situation has led to incidents in which angry residents have set fire to waste piles in the streets. The uncollected waste and the open fires pose serious health and environmental risks through the spread of disease and pollution of air, water and land.

While Italy has already taken some measures to deal with the waste crisis, in view of the situation's urgency and gravity, the Commission is giving Italy just one month to respond instead of the usual two month deadline.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said, "The situation in Campania is intolerable and I fully understand the frustrations of residents who fear for their health. It is essential that the Italian authorities not only take effective measures to resolve the current emergency, as they are already doing, but also put in place the waste management infrastructure needed to provide a sustainable solution to problems which date back more than a decade."

"The Commission will continue its legal action, and if necessary use its powers to seek fines, until the situation in Campania is brought into line with the EU waste management standards that Italy and all other member states have agreed to," Dimas said.

EU waste law, known as the Waste Framework Directive, requires member states to prevent waste from being abandoned, dumped or disposed of in an uncontrolled way. They must ensure that waste is recovered or disposed of without endangering human health or harming the environment. Measures must be taken to establish an adequate network of disposal installations to ensure a high level of protection for the environment and human health.

Early in January, Prime Minister Romano Prodi appointed former national police chief Gianni De Gennaro as special commissioner to handle the garbage problem. Prodi gave him four months to resolve the crisis, which has resulted from decades of political weakness and corruption in waste disposal at the hands of the local mafia.

On January 21, De Gennaro announced that the government will reopen three rubbish dumps across Campania and establish three temporary storage sites, including one in a Naples suburb where residents repeatedly have clashed with police.

De Gennaro, a former police chief, said that by February 5 at the latest, with the dumps reopened, trash collectors would begin disposing of the daily trash output of about 7,000 metric tons and begin dealing with the backlog.

Residents suspect the "temporary" sites will become permanent. After a brief meeting with De Gennaro Tuesday, a resident who wished to remain unidentified said the commissioner has given no date by which the temporary sites will be closed.

Since mid-January authorities in Naples have been shipping mountains of trash to other parts of Italy, but the deliveries have led to protests. Piles of Naples' garbage were set ablaze on the island of Sardinia.

The Commission sent Italy a first warning letter over the situation in Campania last June. This action was taken after garbage in the region had been left uncollected for a period during the spring of 2007, forcing the closure of schools on health grounds and leading residents to set fire to piles of rubbish bags in the streets.

The Italian government responded to that episode by adopting a decree-law setting out emergency measures for the region including the opening of four new waste landfill sites.

Still, the Commission concluded that the decree-law provided only limited solutions because it failed to take a systematic and long-term approach to resolving a crisis that has been caused by the Italian authorities' systematic failure to provide for an adequate network of waste disposal installations in Campania, Dimas said.

In the light of Italy's response to the first letter and meetings with the Italian authorities, including a visit by officials from the Commission's Directorate-General for Environment to see the situation in Campania at first hand, the Commission concluded that more action was needed by the Italian authorities.

Last October the Commission sent Italy an additional letter of formal notice pointing to the lack of a waste management plan for Campania as required by EU law. A waste management plan for the region was adopted more than ten years ago but never properly implemented.

In view of the continuing and apparently worsening waste crisis in Campania seen in recent weeks, the Commission said the Italian authorities need to redouble their efforts to resolve both the immediate crisis and the longer term structural problems resulting from the region's inadequate waste disposal infrastructure.

The new emergency measures set out in the legal notice adopted by the Italian government on January 11, should help to improve the situation in the short term, but they fail to provide a longer term solution to ensure waste management in Campania in a manner consistent with European legislation.

Given the potentially grave health and environmental problems posed by the continuing crisis the Commission said that, while welcoming the efforts undertaken by the Italian authorities to solve the crisis, it has no option but to continue the infringement procedure by sending Italy a final written warning.

© 2008 Environment News Service and reprinted by special permission

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Albion Monitor   January 30, 2008   (

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