A city unprepared. Even for bird droppings.

The last time it snowed sort of heavily in Rome was in February 2012 and for weeks afterwards Romans, who love to complain about whomever it is who is governing them (or trying to? or pretending to?), were carrying on about how the city was unprepared and didn’t have proper snow equipment. This was ridiculous. Why a city strapped for funds where a snowfall deserving of that name happens about every 25 years should spend money on snowplows and so forth just doesn’t make sense. Shovels, road salt, yes. But heavy snow removal equipment. No way.

But when millions of birds nest in your city’s 400,000 trees every fall and winter and rain sticky-icky birdshit all over sidewalks, roads, cars, benches, garbage cans and so forth, a bit of pre-planning might be in order. Rumors are now circulating that the bird droppings could be dangerous and some of the birds may carry TB or other diseases, but experts say this is not the case. But as the events of recent weeks have shown, it is a problem, and one that needs to be dealt with.

Planning, as anyone who has lived here at length knows, is not part of the Roman DNA, something most Romans and other Italians are the first to say. (If you know Italian, read Sergio Rizzo in Corriere della Sera on January 3.


If you are lucky, the Rome city administration will react AFTER an emergency so that maybe the next time, disaster will not strike. But there are no guarantees this will happen. Generally, it takes years – decades – for a problem to be dealt with. That is, if it is ever dealt with. This is the capital of Italy, one of the world’s major countries, a major tourist destination and possibly the largest single repository of any city of the treasures of Western civilization. And yet…. And yet.

Getting rid of the birds – attracted by the warmth of the city on their migratory flights who knows where −  might be difficult; reportedly, all sorts of acoustic dissuaders have been tried and have proved unsuccessful. We certainly wat neither to kill them nor to get rid forcibly of the leaves on the trees they favor. Also, seeing a few of those wonderful murmurizations in the evening sky every year is enough to warm the human heart. However, how about a bit of pre-planing by the city and its sanitation department.

Over the last couple of weeks, on more than one occasion, the bird droppings – called guano by the press although I am not sure this is an Italian word – have  mixed with winter rain and falling autumn leaves to create a hazardous situation on the Lungotevere highways that flank the Tiber River on both sides. http://www.ilmessaggero.it/roma/cronaca/roma_guano_ancora_emergenza_liquame_alberi-1461127.html

There have been accidents for motorists and, above all, motorcyclists. And yet on the last occasion, on January 2, one part of one of those highways – essential city arteries, mind you– had to be closed for NINE hours. What about getting sanitation teams out there before the rain or when it starts. How about getting them to hose down the cars in the areas, and the park benches, and the manholes, and the steps leading down to the river? AMA, as Rizzo points out, has 8000 people working for it and surely some of them could be rounded up in the mornings, or when the rain starts to get out and do their job which is cleaning the city streets. I don’t blame the workers themselves (although, who knows, maybe there is a union person somewhere who says cleaning up guano is not part of an AMA worker’s job description) but those higer up who are in charge of daily organization.


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