2064- A FORETOLD BIO-CIDE... more
2064 could be the year of an apocalyptic event. This time, however, we are not talking about the prophecy of an ancient civilization and you will not find this date in a passage of the Pentecost Book of Acts. Still, 2064 is the year in which, according to the report of an expert appointed by the Court of Naples in one of several proceedings against the Ecomafia system in Campania, a piece of the world will end. The report says that in 2064 the leachate released by the thousands of tons of toxic and hazardous waste illegally dumped in the countryside or in unauthorized garbage landfills by the Camorra will reach the underground aquifers and consequently extinguish all forms of life in the area, including human life. This is just one of the latest stories related to the toxic waste that has invaded Campania. In that region the disaster cannot be viewed simply as an environmental issue but has become a humanitarian one. Today, thanks to "Gomorrah" (the book by journalist Roberto Saviano that brought worldwide attention to the Ecomafia system in Campania) and to the countless investigations and prosecutions carried out by the Antimafia Commission, we know that, since the 1980s, millions of tons of refuse coming from all over Italy were dumped in legal or illegal landfills in Campania, that is to say in vast portions of that land that the Romans called felix (fertile, since the aquifer in some areas is just 70cm deep), and in quarries managed by the Camorra and by its corrupt business partners. The inquiries carried out by the Antimafia prosecutors in Naples and S. Maria Capua Vetere unveiled a perfectly planned and detailed system, where the Camorra is just one of the main actors. Hidden behind it are corrupt public institutions and colluded businessmen, some of them even linked to the Freemasonry, and the whole game revolves around massive economical interests. According to the latest report issued by the Parliamentary Commission in charge of Ecomafia investigations, what is happening in Campania is a “catastrophe only comparable to the plague of 1600”. It is an unprecedented environmental and humanitarian disaster and, despite the rivers of words spoken and written about it over the years, no concrete action has been taken to confront it. Land reclamation, despite the enormous amount of allocated funds, is almost non-existent. Yet, in 2008 at least 2,550 sites were deemed to be in need of reclamation, all of them situated in the strip of land between Naples and Caserta: twice as many as in Lombardia, Italy’s most industrialized region. According to the former Chairman of the Parliamentary Commission on Ecomafia, Mr Paolo Russo, not even a thousand financial maneuvers disposed by the Government would be sufficient to clean up all of Campania’s polluted areas. The case of the town of Acerra, for instance, is a shocking one: here, animal grazing was forbidden in 2001, when a flock of sheep was found to be intoxicated by a quantity of dioxin exceeding the permitted level by thousands of times. Sheep had started to get sick and give birth to monstrously deformed lambs. The Neapolitan Antimafia prosecutors therefore opened an investigation called “Carosello, Final Act” (jokingly referring to a 1960s TV intermission showing a flock of sheep). The investigation was followed by a trial that lasted over ten years and is finally supposed to reach its conclusion in the next few days (March 2013). It emerged from the inquiry that the Pellini family, businessmen from Acerra managing hazardous waste disposal landfills and composting facilities, took advantage of the connivance of some members of the Carabinieri, of technicians appointed by the local authorities and of affiliates of a notorious Camorra clan from the area of Caserta, and dumped in the countryside of Acerra, Qualiano, Villaricca, Bacoli and Caivano, more than one million tons of refuse coming from northern industries. A lot of this waste was distributed to farmers, telling them it could be used as fertilizer. But the problem is not restricted to the refuse buried underground or spread on top of the soil as fertilizer; it extends to the thousands of tons of industrial, toxic and hazardous waste that, day after day, is burned, especially at night, in the proximity of cultivated fields, under overpasses and in the suburbs of the area between Naples and Caserta. Especially in summer, it is sufficient to follow the so-called median axes (the network of roads linking the provinces of Naples and Caserta) to see distant columns of thick smoke, as black and dense as death. Often these fumes do not even last long enough to report them to the Fire Brigade. Other times, they reach an enormous size and, in summer, with the torrid weather, they spread out and mix with brushwood bonfires. The fumes have no boundaries, they reach a point where they stop growing in height and begin to expand horizontally, spreading for miles and releasing dioxins and other poisons all around the area, over fruit and vegetables orchards as well as in people’s lungs. Innumerable complaints against the toxic fires are posted on the Internet, together with the testimonies of people forced to stay indoors to avoid inhaling the thick, acrid smelling and noxious air. The people involved in this battle often define it a war. And it is true. Walking through the suburbs of my land it’s easy to realize that, for more than thirty years, an authentic war has been perpetrated against us by this criminal powers system. It’s a war that, like every war should be, is fought on three fronts: air, with the fumes of toxic fires; land, with legal and illegal landfills and underground waste deposits, and water, with water purifiers that work badly or not at all and turn miles of beautiful beaches into empty deserts, even in full summer. Still, what is really alarming, what should make it clear that this problem is a humanitarian issue and not just an environmental one, is the result of statistics and medical research. According to a study conducted by the “Pascale” Institute for Cancer Treatment and Research, based in Naples, since 1998 the incidence of tumors among the local population has increased by 45%, whereas in the rest of Italy it is almost unchanged. Today, several scientific studies, often conducted by international researchers, confirm this alarming surge of cancer. But the bad news does not end with cancer. According to some specialists and to scientific studies on the subject, there are other diseases, such as diabetes, respiratory problems, infertility and even autism that appear closely connected with the environmental destruction perpetuated in these lands. Recently, even the Ministry of Health ascertained the fact that in this area people fall ill and die more frequently than in the rest of Italy, while still denying that the cause might be pollution. In fact, according to a statement by the former Minister of Health, Mr Renato Balduzzi, the rise of cancer and other diseases registered in Campania in recent years might be caused by unhealthy lifestyles. Once again Neapolitans are regarded as ugly, dirty and bad! This announcement had the effect of firing the indignation of those who have been fighting for years to denounce this state of affairs. On the other hand, my people, those who fight against this massacre, are aware that not all the blame can be put on the Mafia and on organized criminality. The Government and the local authorities are unanimously regarded as accomplices, since polluted areas get confiscated but no one bothers removing the ashes of the toxic fires and the repeatedly promised reclamations, that several million Euros have already been allocated for, never start due to cumbersome bureaucracy. This is why, in the summer of 2012, the environmental associations converged in a coordinated group, the Fires Committees Organization (and I am honored to be a part of it), and filed a formal complaint against Regione Campania, the provincial authorities of Naples and Caserta, including the Municipality of Naples, and 45 more municipalities set in the area between the two towns. A few months later, Padre Maurizio Patriciello, minister of a church set in a working class neighborhood of Caivano, province of Naples, a priest who has always been on the frontline against the Camorra, decided to join our battle. Padre Maurizio has had enough of seeing the black smoke of burning toxic waste hanging over the suburban tenements where the people of his parish live. Padre Maurizio has had enough of celebrating funerals for victims of cancer, whether young or old. He writes as a columnist for an important national newspaper and continuously reports about the situation on the main Social Networks. Eventually, he succeeded in stirring people’s conscience and, one evening, despite the rain, he managed to bring about 20,000 people out in the street, each of them with a torch in one hand and the photo of a loved one who died from cancer in the other. Awareness is a growing in a population that, until now, has often remained silent. People who reside in the area know that, here, the majority of deaths are caused by cancer. At times, they seem almost afraid to pronounce the word: they often refer to it as "that nasty illness" "that disease." Everyone knows that the disease is affecting people who are increasingly younger, people in pre-screening age: for them National Health does not even provide prevention. That is why they feel totally outraged when they get told that, probably, all those deaths are due to unhealthy lifestyle. What’s more, in these areas, after all the reports on crops confiscated due to contamination by toxic substances, people are afraid of eating the fruit and vegetables that doctors advise us to eat to diminish the risk of developing tumors. Over a year has passed since I started getting involved in the matter as a photographer. Recently, I have started to feel seriously depressed. I also feel very angry because these are my land and my people. What’s more, my own life is in danger. At times, though, I feel strangely guilty. How could I let it happen? How could the generations before me let it all happen? Where were we? What have we done? What kind of people did we delegate to represent us, all through these years? Who protected us, who was supposed to do it? But, most importantly, what heritage are we going to leave to our children and grandchildren? Out of this sense of guilt, shared with all the wonderful people I have met in the course of this work and battle, this project was born. Regrettably, my camera cannot make you feel the acrid and nauseous smell that lingers in the summer nights, when a toxic fire burns or when the wind blows towards the suburbs the vapors exhaled by putrid waste storage sites or by the countless illegal landfills that proliferate around the countryside. Sadly, I cannot show you with my camera what has been buried underground or inside the caves managed by the Camorra. But you will be able to see the toxic fires, their smoke, their ashes. You will see Rom gypsy children playing right next to the noxious fumes rising from a villa, first confiscated to the Mafia but then used as a furnace to burn waste and plastics of all sorts. You will see a flock of sheep grazing under a bridge in an area polluted by refuse of all sorts, including asbestos. And, finally, you will see the faces of people who suffer, or have suffered, immeasurable damage but still tell their dramatic story, to carry on denouncing, to raise awareness and fight. Each of these people go on fighting despite the enemy that has invaded their homes or even their own body and bears a name so hard to pronounce. They continue to struggle despite cancer, that here takes the form of an epidemic and spares no street, no neighborhood and no social class. They told me their stories with great dignity, although this criminal system has robbed them of a child, a wife, a husband, a brother, a parent or a close friend: dramatic deaths that in some cases took place just a few weeks before I met them. They do it out of love for their land and to spare from this tragedy the future generations. Around here, activists and environmentalists often repeat this: “We are contaminated. If we fight, we do it for our children and grandchildren.” Yes, for our children and grandchildren because 2064, symbolic or real as it may be, sooner or later is bound to come.