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Fresh health fears as Rome rubbish crisis intensifies

Ella Ide

Agence France-Presse

Rome  /  Fri, October 4, 2019  /  09:08 am
Fresh health fears as Rome rubbish crisis intensifies

A bystander looks a pile of rubbish in a market area of central Rome on January 6, 2018. Rome is suffering from a chronic rubbish collection issue which has been ongoing since Christmas Eve. (AFP/Alberto Pizzoli)

Italian officials warned Wednesday Rome's burgeoning garbage crisis constituted a health risk, as rat control services worked overtime and the waste collection company board resigned.

The board of Ama, the rubbish collection company that in recent years has been dogged by inefficiency and corruption scandals, stepped down Monday over a dispute with the city council -- just 100 days after it took over.

The previous board had been sacked in February by Rome mayor Virginia Raggi, who has come under intense pressure for the Eternal City's overflowing bins, which regularly attract seagulls, rats and, in some suburbs, wild boar.

"The chaos in which Ama finds itself, with the umpteenth resignation of the umpteenth Board of Directors... worries Rome's Order of Doctors", the organization's president and deputy, Antonio Magi and Pierluigi Bartoletti, said in a note.

"Piles of rubbish in every street, near schools, hospitals, public places... risk creating a health emergency," they said.

Anaci, the national association of condominium administrators, said Monday it had received 12,000 requests for rodent exterminations between May and September -- three times more than it usually does over the summer period.

Rome's chief physician Antonio Magi had issued a "hygiene alert" in July, telling AFP there was a risk of disease spreading through the feces of insects and animals banqueting on rotting waste.

Read also: Rome offers free metro travel for plastic recyclers

'Big problems' 

The capital only has one waste processing plant, which is buckling under the strain.

"Within 15 days the city is going to have big problems," Ama's outgoing managing director Paolo Longoni said Wednesday.

Longoni and his fellow board members' departures marks the sixth time the board has changed in three years.

Raggi, a member of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, became the capital's first female mayor in 2016 by tapping into anger over corruption scandals -- in particular the infiltration of crime families in the city's waste management system.

In April this year she defended herself against accusations she had failed to turn the situation around, saying Rome was "under attack" from mobsters determined not to release their grip on a lucrative sector.

Her comments followed several large blazes at waste treatment plants and hundreds of bins set alight across the city.

Crime families in Italy have long held control over large parts of the country's waste management systems.

In 2014 the capital was shaken by revelations that the city administration had, for years, been infiltrated by a mafia-style network which syphoned off millions of euros destined for public services.

The criminal network run by a one-eyed mobster with links to the far right was dubbed "Mafia Capitale" by the media.

Italy's anti-corruption body in 2015 warned Rome lacked the "antibodies" necessary to fight the infiltration of gangsters.

Opposition parties were quick Wednesday to call for Raggi's head to roll, saying the Five Star, which governs Italy in a coalition, was running the capital city into the ground in an international embarrassment for Italy.