- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 26, 2007

ROME — If the children of Naples had their way, they would ask Batman to save them from rotting garbage that threatens to become a major health emergency and may force some schools to close early for the summer holidays.

The Naples “garbage crisis” has dominated news in Italy for weeks as local and national authorities have tried to end a stalemate over mountains of trash rotting on the streets for lack of adequate landfill sites.

President Giorgio Napolitano, himself a Neapolitan, called the situation “tragic” and yesterday leading national newspaper La Repubblica published children’s views of the crisis.

Enter the caped crusader.

“I’ll save you,” Batman says in a speech bubble of a drawing by 8-year-old Raffaele after a class exercise in his Naples elementary school where teachers invited the children to vent their anger and frustration creatively.

In the background of Raffaele’s drawing, near Batman, stand an overflowing garbage bin and sacks of stinking rubbish.

In one tough neighborhood, a child wrote in an essay “Jail would be better than this garbage.”

With the few landfill sites full to the brim, garbage collectors stopped picking up rubbish.

The crisis has coincided with a late spring heat wave and schools in several towns in the Naples area have been shut because of the health threat posed by garbage outside. Some fear they may remain closed for the rest of the academic year.

Every night in the past week, fire brigades have had to put out dozens of fires in Naples and its province after irate residents, fearing outbreaks of disease, set trash heaps ablaze.

Authorities have plastered notices on the brimming bins reading: “Burning rubbish means unleashing dioxin and dioxin causes cancer.” But the fires have not stopped.

Outside Naples, hundreds of packed garbage trucks have been waiting in the sun with nowhere to go.

Residents who do not want rubbish buried near their homes or environmentalists who say garbage would damage protected areas have blocked new landfill sites selected by the government.

Guido Bertolaso, Italy’s civil protection chief who is also the “garbage czar,” has several times threatened to resign, frustrated by red tape blocking approval of new sites.

Authorities are looking into temporary solutions, such as reopening closed landfills and sending garbage to other areas.

One site was reopened yesterday in Acerra, near Naples, and some garbage was being collected from the streets of Naples. But residents of Acerra again protested.

Locals say efforts to resolve the crisis permanently are resisted by the Camorra, Naples’ version of the Sicilian Mafia.

The Camorra runs its own illegal waste dumps in the Naples hinterland and does not like competition.

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