The earth our Home: Naples

Chiara and ElenaChiara and Elena

All over the world, our environment and re-thinking how we relate to it is becoming increasingly urgent. The poor have borne, and will continue to bear, the biggest brunt of the suffering caused by the exploitation and abuse of the earth. Here is the first of three stories relating how the Little Sisters have shared the experiences of their people:

You may already know something about the garbage disposal problems here in southern Italy, especially in Campania where the problem is acute. Campania is just the tip of the iceberg, The problem is universal and concerns everyone: if our world's 7 billion inhabitants lived as we do in the rich nations (11% of the planet's population consuming 88% of its resources) we'd need four more planets like this one to supply us and four more to serve as dumping grounds for the wastes we produce!

In Naples we see the problem every day. It exploded here and in some neighbouring cities in the summer of 2008. Trash cans and streets filled with uncollected garbage. It brought to light a problem which was not in fact new, but which had suddenly become much more serious.

Refuse in NaplesRefuse in Naples

About twenty years ago, Naples, and Campania in general, became the national waste dump. In 1989, representatives of La Camorra (a kind of local Mafia) decided to bury trash here, seeing that it was getting more and more difficult to ship it to Somalia and other third world countries for disposal... Thousands of dump trucks filled with toxic wastes arrived from every corner of Italy (and even from foreign countries), and it was all buried in Campania, poisoning the air, the water table and aquifers, crops and pastures.

For years, the local administration had not been able to organize a manageable system for sorting refuse. La Camorra took over with complete impunity, creating an illegal traffic in garbage. In addition to having no system for handling waste, there is no organized collection either, so the public streets as well as the garbage cans are overflowing.

There is a lot of improper stockpiling of waste on lands which La Camorra bought from farmers. Inefficient recycling installations produce big bales of crushed trash which cannot be properly burned under existing regulations. Toxic substances which are incinerated illegally, pollute the springs and streams and poison the animals, thus increasing the risk of poisoning for the citizens who consume the meat and dairy products. Ashes from the waste are sold as fertilizer, so farmlands became contaminated. Fruits and vegetables grown in the area present risks for the people of Naples and Caserte; there has been an enormous increase in mortality from cancer, as well as in miscarriages caused by congenital diseases. It is not just an ecological crime, but an ecological disaster!

Our neighbourhood in NaplesOur neighbourhood in Naples

Each of us wonders how we can respond to the situation, how we can exercise our responsibility for the common good. At present there are several initiatives aimed at making people aware, and getting them to sort garbage so that waste materials can be recycled properly. In our neighbourhood the parish and schools play a significant role. Our parish in particular, in an effort to be self-supporting, has organized a collection of plastic bottle caps. So far it has been very successful: we have collected two tons of bottle caps every month.

These are small steps, which we hope will continue, together with the measures the new government has promised to undertake.

The Little Sisters wrote from Naples in June, 2009: "Today the problem is not as visible in the streets as it was last year, but the situation is still grave."