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Down In The Dumps, Rome Deals With Garbage Crisis


This is the season when you may have a friend on vacation who's posting Instagram photos from Rome. If you do, send them a note. Ask them how it smells because Rome is going through a garbage crisis which has the city down in the dumps. We're going to talk about this with reporter Barbie Latza Nadeau. She's been covering this story.

Welcome to the program.

BARBIE NADEAU: Thank you very much. Good morning.

INSKEEP: So what's it like to walk around Rome right now?

NADEAU: It really is disgusting, I have to tell you. You know, this is a city that's one of the big, great tourist capitals of the world, and it smells bad. You can smell food rotting. You can smell any sort of garbage you can imagine from, you know, dogs and cats that - nobody's cleaning up the city. And that's not just collecting the garbage - they're not sweeping the streets. They're not cleaning the streets. You know, it's traditionally not the rainy season in Rome, and it's very, very hot. So the smell - it - just the mingling of different odors is absolutely disgusting.

INSKEEP: What happened to the sanitation services?

NADEAU: Well, Rome - I mean, the mess extends, let's say, far beyond the garbage that hasn't been collected. Rome hasn't had a mayor for almost eight months. The new mayor who was elected, the first woman ever elected as a mayor of Rome, took office in June. And her priority when she ran for the office was to clean up the garbage crisis.

The garbage crisis started, of course, as it often does in Italian cities, through organized crime infiltrating the sanitation business. That's something that has historically always taken place in Italy and in Rome especially because the so-called Capital Mafia - this is an organized crime syndicate that's new to Italy - had basically taken over the contracts for the sanitation workers. And in doing so, they were taking kickbacks, making lots of money, things like that. But they had people in place to collect the garbage as a cover. Those people now are gone, and the sanitation workers don't like the legitimate contracts that make them work long hours. So in cleaning up the mafia, they've really made the city a lot dirtier.

INSKEEP: So you're saying that the garbage workers actually prefer to work for the mob if they can?

NADEAU: That's right because in order to keep everything running smoothly, people enjoyed their jobs. They didn't have to punch a time clock. That was one of the first things that was instilled by the new contract - the legitimate contract. A lot of these people, too, aren't trained to pick up certain types of garbage - things like medical waste and things like that. They've had to be trained. They've actually had to do more than, you know, pick up the bags of garbage and sweep the street. This new mayor has promised she will have the entire city cleaned up by the 20 of this month, which will be a miracle if she can make that happen.

INSKEEP: Does she have a way to do that without bringing back the Mafia?

NADEAU: Well, you know, her garbage czar, this woman that she's chosen to help her in organizing the cleanup and the incredible effort it's going to take, has been implicated in - with connection to the former Mafia, which doesn't help the situation at all. This woman Paola Muraro should be able to do the job, should be able to get things done, get things organized. But they've, you know, just come up with some intercepted telephone calls that she had with former people who were involved in the Mafia. So even the people that are trying to help don't have their hands clean, let's say.

INSKEEP: Is there, somewhere, a mob boss who is going to say, some day you're going to ask for me back?

NADEAU: Well, he's in jail right now. The big boss is in jail right now facing a trial for all of the crimes that really have not, you know, been to the benefit of the beautiful - should be beautiful city of Rome, the now very smelly city of Rome.

INSKEEP: Reporter Barbie Latza Nadeau who reached us by Skype. Thanks very much.

NADEAU: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.