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Eternal City's woes turn up heat on Rome mayor

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Eternal City's woes turn up heat on Rome mayor
Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi is facing a growing backlash. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
11:18 CEST+02:00
The foulest stench is in the air, but the zombie-like creatures lurching through rubbish-strewn streets of Rome are not monsters in Michael Jackson's "Thriller", but heat-weary tourists and furious residents.

And the crisis is piling the pressure on to the Italian capital's anti-establishment mayor Virginia Raggi, who faces a growing backlash over a collapsing transport sector, failing garbage collection service and threatened water cuts.

The 39-year old has appealed for the government to declare a state of emergency in Rome as the water company prepares to implement staggered water supply shutdowns following a dry spring and scorching summer.

A ban on frolicking in the city's historic fountains is repeatedly flouted by tourists desperate to cool off after slogging through sticky streets.

Buses break down or burst into flames, and little water can be spared to clean the pavements.

"We know Rome was not built in a day," Roberto Giachetti, vice-president of the lower house of parliament, wrote on Facebook Friday. "But a year of Raggi seems more than enough to give her the coup de grace."

Bruno Rota, director of Rome's crumbling public transport company Atac, announced on Friday he was throwing in the towel and resigning after three months on the job - but not before launching a stinging attack on the workers.

Not only did the "level of absenteeism mean it's difficult to cover shifts", he said, the company - with debts totalling €1.3 billion euros ($1.52 billion) - was also unable to convince anyone to loan it the funds to repair
its ageing vehicles.

Those who opt to walk - in temperatures set to top 40 degrees Centigrade (104 degrees Fahrenheit) - stumble into potholes and along streets where the smell is such that residents "hood" public bins with plastic.

Raging thirst

Rome's difficulties in dealing with the 4,500 tonnes of rubbish it produces daily saw it sign a deal last year for a large chunk of it to be sent by train to be recycled in Austria.

Raggi, from the Five Star Movement, came to power promising to clean up the city, but ran into trouble off the bat.

Her chosen garbage tsar, Paola Muraro, was forced to resign after it emerged she was being probed for alleged wrongdoing as a consultant to the city's rubbish collection agency, AMA.

The ringleaders of a criminal gang in Rome who had made a racket out of corruption in city services - including the rubbish collection - were given stiff prison sentence last week.

But locals are still paying the price: on Thursday police detained 15 people for putting the health of thousands of citizens at risk by burying toxic rubbish in land next to a natural spring.

With the spring down, taps on the verge of being turned off, and the nearby Lake Bracciano at dangerously low levels, Romans took to social media on Friday asking what they were supposed to drink.

Environmental group Legambiente blamed pipe leaks, saying over 44 percent of water in Rome was wasted that way.

Though the drought has hit the whole of Italy, "Rome is the situation that worries me the most," said Environment Minister Gian Galletti, who is set to address parliament on the crisis early next week.

Acea, the utility firm which runs Rome's water system, has threatened to bring in rationing from Monday following the region's decision to stop withdrawing water from Bracciano to avoid an environmental disaster.

And with all 100 fountains at the Vatican turned off following the drought, even religion cannot help thirsty locals now.

By Ella Ide

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