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Naples can hope for a better future


In a symbolic move prime minister Silvio Berlusconi held the first cabinet meeting in Naples in order to show solidarity with a city that has suffered for half a year from a severe trash crisis. The new government announced several measures to make the city “blossom again.”


Tackling the trash crisis was not the only item on the agenda. The cabinet also approved a new policy on illegal immigration and fiscal measures aimed at improving the purchasing power of Italian families.


Nonetheless, it was clear that the garbage crisis would dominate the headlines. Berlusconi’s promise to tackle the emergency had been one of the central pillars of his election campaign. The underlying problems of the crisis had been clear for a number of years but it was in December that the situation reached the point of becoming unbearable when garbage collectors stopped picking up trash because dumps were full. As the garbage piled up in the city some desperate citizens started to set it on fire.


The Prodi government responded with a number of emergency measures and some  garbage was sent abroad but this relief was only temporary. The emergency was made worse by a lack of coordination between the city authorities, the region and the national government.


After the cabinet meeting Berlusconi insisted that his government will be more determined in addressing the problem. He said that “I’m in Naples to say that the state is here and it is acting - not tomorrow, but now.” He charged Guido Bertolaso, the head of the Civil Protection Department, to supervise the emergency efforts. Bertolaso has extensive experience in crisis management. He was also responsible for preparing the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005.


In addition to the inept response by local governments the crisis was exacerbated by residents' resistance to building new incinerators and dumps. Breaking that resistance will be a key component in finding a long-term solution to the problem. Berlusconi’s policy is therefore aimed at opening more dumps even if that may be unpopular in the short-term. He said the army would be called in to protect dump sites and promised harsh measures for anyone caught trespassing or blocking refuse collection, including up to one year in prison.


The new government plans the construction of an incinerator that should be operative by the end of the year. It also intends to build more incinerators in the region in the coming years.


While most of the media coverage focuses on how the garbage crisis affects the city of Naples, it must not be forgotten that the whole Campania region is affected. According to one estimate, 50,000 tons of trash remain uncollected in the region. It is imperative that the crisis will be addressed as soon as possible since the heat of the Italian summer will increase the potential for disease from various animals, including mice and cockroaches.


Apart from the immediate need to clean the city of Naples and the Campania region, this challenge is also a chance for the new government to demonstrate Italy’s ability to tackle its current problems. In this respect, the decision to hold the cabinet meeting in Naples was of far-reaching symbolic importance. If Berlusconi and his government can show that they are capable of delivering visible results in Naples after months of despair, Italians in general will feel more optimistic that the current nationwide problems (in particular economic stagnation) can also be addressed.




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