Forest? Fuhgettaboutit

<p>Sicily's forests are being ravaged by fires many suspect are being set by the Mafia, who plan on reaping financial benefits when the land is rezoned for construction.</p>
September 7, 2007, 12pm PDT | Michael Dudley
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"Seen from above, Sicily now looks more like Dante's inferno. In the past two weeks, nearly 100 bush fires have ravaged the island, claiming at least a dozen lives.

Extreme temperatures - up to 46 degrees - and a hot wind from Africa have been feeding the flames and helping them to spread. But Italian authorities have determined that, like many of the fires causing so much grief in Greece, the cause here has nothing to do with Mother Nature.

The fires are being set deliberately, and the prime suspect is the Mafia.

Mimmo Fontana, president of the National Environment League (Legambiente), agrees. The Mafia, he says, has become 'expert in destruction' because 'after the flames, there is a lot of money to be made ... Forest fires have become an entrepreneurial activity.'

Criminals, explains Francesco Forgione, president of the Italian government's anti-Mafia committee, 'often burn wooded areas in order to make them suitable for building.'

In fact, he says, they have even targeted 'zones where it is not permissible to build' such as nature reserves intending all along to 'build villas and cement housing.'

Is this not a futile mission? No, says former Mafia fighter Giuseppe De Lello, now a member of the Italian Senate. 'When a natural, wooded reserve is destroyed," he explains, 'in order to replant trees there, a long bureaucratic process is necessary that many local governments are not willing to go through.

'Consequently, if reforestation does not proceed, that area will remain abandoned and automatically becomes open for construction.'"

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Published on Saturday, September 1, 2007 in The Globe and Mail
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