As with any city, water is an integral flow which must be closely monitored as it circulates the city. Water is crucial for various reasons, such as drinking water, basic sanitation, and agriculture, which is especially important for Naples (Swyngedouw et al. 2002; Senior and Mazza 2004). In the case of Naples, its flow of water has been significantly impacted by its ongoing waste crisis, having disastrous impacts on both human and natural life. This blog entry aims to understand the implications the waste crisis has had on this critical urban flow.
Who owns Naples’ water?
Before we delve into the implications of the waste crisis on Naples’ water, we first must understand who owns the water. In the late 2000s, Berlusconi’s presidency saw attempts to privatise Italy’s water supply to boost efficiency and distribution (D’Alpaos 2018). However, many individuals were against the privatisation, especially in southern regions like Campania, Calabria and Sicily, where poverty is rife. Thus, following referendums and disputes, the country finally returned water to public ownership in 2011. Under renationalisation, Naples’ water was transferred to public ownership under Acqua Bene Comune Napoli; a branch of Naples’ municipal government (Massarutto et al. 2008). However, many argue that due to years of private water ownership, Naples’ water pollution problem went mostly unnoticed due to rampant corruption and the Camorra’s monopoly across businesses and government (Saviano 2007). Could Naples’ water contamination issue have been circumvented if there was more robust governance from the state?
Driving forces of poor water quality:
So, I speak of water pollution being a problem in Naples’, so what exactly caused this? Well, everything comes back to the illegal waste dumping. As I stated earlier, large amounts of industrial waste have been dumped across the Naples metropolitan area. As a result of this unmonitored waste disposal, water has become contaminated by heavy metals like arsenic and benzo(a)pyrene (Bortone et al. 2015). Likewise, as waste has been dumped in underground caves, groundwater has subsequently become contaminated with the same heavy metals. The shallow water table in Tufino and Montecorvino Pugliano enables chemical residue to easily infiltrate into the water table (Mazza et al. 2015; 2018). Heavy metals and industrial waste have also been able to enter surface water supplies through surface runoff following rainfall events, speeding up the contamination of Naples’ water supply (Ibid 2015).
Implications of water contamination:
The implications of Naples’ water contamination issue have been severe. As the city relies on groundwater and water from Western Campania, its drinking water supply has become contaminated. Even though the level of heavy metals are not as high as they were during the height of the crisis, water contamination has been disastrous for Campania’s agriculture industry. Given that areas near Naples rely on agriculture and grazing, officials have prohibited groundwater use, as levels of heavy metals were found to be 4.2 times above safe limits (Bortone et al. 2015). The runoff of heavy metals has also managed to enter the Gulf of Naples and other surface water stores, impacting fragile aquatic ecosystems (Troldborg et al. 2009). Even though the situation has improved significantly, the fear amongst Neapolitans is still like it once was. During my time in Naples, I realised that many Neapolitan’s distrust the water that flows through their taps. I recall my Airbnb host telling me that the ‘acqua tossica’ or ‘toxic water’ should only be reserved for sanitation purposes. Upon reflection, I did not think much of what my host told me as many cities suffer from poor water quality, but in retrospect, I think his perception of Naples’ water supply was shaped by events he saw unfold in his city.
Without a doubt, the waste crisis has impacted every aspect of Naples. Despite the crisis being less severe than it once was, its impacts are irreversible. This entry has highlighted how the city’s water supply has become contaminated as industrial waste has infiltrated ground and surface water supplies. This contamination has therefore meant groundwater has been prohibited for agricultural use. Water contamination has also created significant distrust amongst Neapolitans and their city’s water supply, which should not be the case in the world’s eight wealthiest nation.
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