Project Detail: The Sarno river: a sick god


Reportage and Documentary 2020




Giuseppe Carotenuto


Project Info

The Sarno river: a sick god

The Covid-19 emergency has blocked industries along the Sarno River, demonstrating that the human hand can be devastating.

During ancient times, the Sarno River had a venerable function. It was a clear, navigable, and fishy watercourse, which contributed to making the “Campania Felix” fertile. Natural riches were of great use for the development of human civilization. For these reasons, the Sarno river was revered as a god.

Covid-19 emergency stopped the production of all industries along the Sarno river. 50 days of lockdown allowed a natural regeneration of the water which was again transparent and showed citizens, mayors, and struggle associations that the main reasons for the pollution are linked to the discharges of industrial wastewater.

The Sarno is the fourth most polluted river on Earth, the first in Europe, with a 500 km drainage basin that flows 39 through municipalities. The territory was inhabited since prehistoric times thanks to very fertile land and is located between Naples and Salerno. It is known as “Agro nocerino-sarnese”: now inhabited by a million people and characterized by the presence of industries and illegal buildings.

The WHO reports of 1997 showed that in the “Agro nocerino-sarnese” there was a very high mortality rate for cancer and leukemia in 17% compared to other countries in the World.

An environmental disaster started with the industrial boom of the 1960s. Industrial waste-water, the fumes, the illegal discharge, and the toxic substances that destroy the environment and health still today. Cavaiola and Solofrana are the main poisonous streams of the river. The Solofrana torrent comes from the Solofra area (Avellino), famous for the leather industry. Meantime the situation was aggravated by ecomafie. Criminals unscrupulously dump any type of waste, even dangerous to human health, into the river.

The de-pollution started in 1973 with the special recovery project of the Gulf of Naples; despite the constant attention from 50 years away, in fact, there is still no conclusion due to the slow bureaucracy that does not allow the immediate use of European funds.

SPRA (Higher Institute for Environmental Protection and Research) has added Sarno to the list of the most polluted sites with health risks, pending intervention.