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The Italians fighting illness from toxic waste

Two Italian teenagers with first-hand experience of the dangers of illegal toxic waste dumping have started a Facebook page to draw attention to the health risks – a campaign that went viral this week. The Local catches up with them to find out more.

The Italians fighting illness from toxic waste
Photos: Noi Ci Mettiamo La Faccia/Facebook

So what’s the campaign about?

Entitled ‘Noi Ci Mettiamo La Faccia’ (We’re taking on the responsibility), the Facebook campaign's trying to draw attention to the human cost of the dumping and burning of toxic waste by the Camorra (the Naples-based crime syndicate) on local communities in the region of Campania.

Members of the Camorra, who have maintained at least partial control of refuse disposal in the region since the mid-1990s, reportedly dump the waste by day and burn it at night, releasing toxic fumes across a broad area stretching as far as Caserta, 40 km north of Naples.

According to Italian media reports, more than 6,000 fires have been lit in the last 18 months to destroy toxic waste in the Campania region – and 57 communities have experienced serious pollution since 2001.

The cause has already received plenty of media attention, with Italian celebrities like Olympic swimming champion Federica Pellegrini joining the ‘Terra dei Fuochi’ Facebook campaign. But this is the first ‘non-VIP’ campaign of this kind.

What kind of impact does this have on health?

In a World Health Organization (WHO) report, a pilot study examining the impact of waste treatment on human health in the Campania region found evidence of 20 different cancers between 1994 and 2001 and 11 types of congenital malformations between 1996 and 2002.

The study concluded that in some municipalities, “There are consistent and significant statistical increases regarding some of the causes of deaths examined, including cancer of the stomach, kidney, liver and lung and for urogenital and cardiovascular congenital malformations.”

Speaking to The Local last week, a priest in the town of Caivano just north of Naples said mortality rates had risen 300 percent between 2008 and 2012.

Who started the campaign and why?

The Facebook campaign was started by two 19-year-old students from the southern Italian town of Trentola-Duecenta in the region of Campania, northwest of Naples.

Both have first-hand experience of the problem.

“We experience it every day. We live on this land, we see toxic waste every day. We breathe this air, we drink this water, we eat the products of our land. Is it possible to be more affected than this?” they tell The Local.

Their decision to launch the campaign was “spontaneous”, they say – “a kind of reaction to the burning of toxic waste that, even if it has existed for a long time, has this summer started to become more widespread.”

How does their campaign work?

“In a very simple way. Whoever wants to participate – regardless of their age – can send a photo of his or her face to our Facebook page, along with the words: ‘I don’t want to die of cancer.’”

Click here to view photos from the Facebook campaign

What kind of reaction has there been so far?

Well, judging from the amount of ‘likes’ the page has attracted –more than 7,000 by Thursday morning – overwhelmingly positive.

“The messages have been numerous, and we’ve been sent just under 400 photos – not only from people in the area, but also from lots of people who’ve had to leave Campania for work or personal reasons,” the students say.

“Many have also written to us asking for help, but we’ve reiterated that we can only hope to change things if we’re all united. Alone, we are nothing.”

The campaign has also attracted some negative comment.

“Some have accused us of looking for fame, or else said that using Facebook is pointless.” 

What do they hope to achieve?

For now, the page is simply an awareness campaign, but the pair hope to achieve something more meaningful in the long run.

“What we hope to do is to create a movement so big that it will affect the responsible parties. We also want to demonstrate that, in the south, we’re not completely ignorant – as some people believe. And we’re asking for help.”

Lots of children have sent in photos. Isn’t this risky?

“I don’t think there will be problems,” one of the campaigners tells The Local. “Whoever sent their photos knew that they would be published on Facebook and therefore given a certain amount of visibility.

“The battle that we want to drive forward is above all for them, the future generations. So their faces are more important than ours.”

Are politicians likely to take the campaign seriously?

“We think that, sooner or later, they’ll do something for us – otherwise we’d never have started this campaign,” say the students. “But to prompt them to do something, we have to show that we’re really fed up with this situation and make ourselves heard.”

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FOOTBALL

‘I represent the nobodies’: How Maradona became the hero of Naples

Few places will mourn the death of Diego Maradona as much as Naples, the downtrodden, gritty Italian city that clasped the troubled Argentine to its heart at his time of need and was repaid with the best years of perhaps the greatest footballer to ever play the game.

'I represent the nobodies': How Maradona became the hero of Naples
Maradona has long been a hero and icon in the city of Naples. Photo: AFP

Buildings around Naples are adorned with depictions of the man who took Napoli to the top of the Italian game and beyond and became an icon and spokesman for Neapolitans, whose chaotic city was feared and loathed in equal measure by the rest of Italy.

“I feel like I represented a part of Italy that didn't count for anything,” he said in 'Diego Maradona', the 2019 Asif Kapadia documentary about his life in Naples.
 
 
So deep was 'barrio boy' Maradona's attachment to Naples that he called Napoli's first ever league title, won a year after he led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup, the “greatest triumph” of his career.
 
Surrounded by jubilant fans on the pitch of Napoli's Stadio San Paolo, he explained why: “I won this one at my home.”
 
Maradona's achievements at Napoli, who had been also-rans until he arrivedin 1984 following a difficult two-year spell at Barcelona, cemented his position as the greatest player of his generation and, in many peoples' eyes, make him the best ever.
 
Diego Maradona on his arrival in Italy in 1984. Photo: AFP
 
Another league title in 1990, the 1989 UEFA Cup, and an Italian Cup also arrived during Maradona's seven years in southern Italy.
 
Maradona's 115 goals in all competitions was a club record that stood for 26 years and his heroics came at a time when Serie A was the world's
strongest, richest league, where the likes of Michel Platini and Zico strutted their stuff.
 
He fled in disgrace in 1991, a failed drugs test, an unrecognised son and a billion-lira tax dispute all left back in Naples, where his penchant for late-night parties, cocaine and women were almost as famous as his magical displays on the pitch.
 
Camorra links
 
Courted by criminals, the King of Spain and even the Pope, Maradona became a quasi-religious figure in Naples. He brought joy to a desperately poor city blighted by bloody conflicts between the competing clans of the powerful Camorra mafia, one of whom Maradona would get to know very well.
 
Indeed the 1984 signing of a genuine superstar by Napoli – who were heavily in debt and had finished 11th the previous season – immediately raised eyebrows, with persistent rumours that a chunk of the world record $10.48 million fee that brought him to Italy came from the Camorra's deep pockets.
 
 
The opening question in his first press conference came from a reporter who asked a confused Maradona whether he knew about the Camorra and its “influence
on football” and was immediately ejected by livid club owner Corrado Ferlaino.
 
“I never asked for anything from the Camorra, they gave me the security of knowing that nothing was going to happen to my two children,” Maradona
insisted in a 2017 interview to Italian TV station Canale 5
 
Murals dedicated to Maradona adorn the walls of apartment buildings in central Naples. Photo: AFP
 
However his access to drugs and women came thanks to the infamous Giuliano clan, who immediately befriended Maradona, furnished his burgeoning cocaine
habit and went to great lengths to make sure they were photographed partying with the world's most famous footballer.
 
Maradona himself admitted that every week he would binge from Sunday night until Wednesday, beginning an intense detox programme each Thursday that would get him ready for the following weekend's match.
 
It took Napoli two years to provide Maradona with teammates capable of challenging for honours, and when the title came in 1987 it caused such wild
celebrations that stories of a summer-long party became as famous as the triumph itself.
 
In reality the city came to a standstill for around a week. To this day Neapolitans name their sons after a football god they've only seen play on old VHS players and YouTube.
 
Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris with Diego Maradona in 2017. Photo: AFP
 
Another title arrived three years later before it all began to fall apart, not long after he and the Argentine national team enraged Italy by dumping the
'Azzurri' out of the 1990 World Cup in the semi-finals – in Naples of all places.
 
His problems had begun some time before. He had tired of the suffocating attention Naples afforded him and in 1989 had signed terms with Marseille, only for Ferlaino to put a stop to the transfer at the last minute.
 
 “After a four-hour meeting, Ferlaino said that if we won the UEFA Cup I could leave, but we won it, and he blocked the move anyway,” Maradona said in
2009.
 
However after the 1990 World Cup he had become a hate figure in Italy and his support network slowly melted away. In February 1991 police announced he
had been caught on wiretaps asking for cocaine and prostitutes from a mob figure. A trumped-up drugs trafficking charge soon followed.
 
The failed drugs test that finished him off came after a match with Bari two months later, and an unprecedented worldwide ban from the game until June
1992 left him back to Buenos Aires, never to reach the same heights again in his career.
 
But he remained an icon in southern Italy, and received a hero's welcome on subsequent visits to the city of Naples.
 
In 2017, he was made an honorary citizen by the city's mayor, Luigi de Magistris.
 
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