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Italy Bans Cars  to Fight Pollution - 2002-01-20

Pollution has reached an alarming level in northern Italy, forcing authorities to close many city centers to traffic. A long spell of cold, dry weather is the cause.

Millions of Italians have been banned from using their cars in city centers in the northern regions of Lombardy and Piedmont because of exceedingly high levels of pollution. Dozens of other city councils have opted for partial car bans in an effort to improve the air. Pollution levels are so high that they pose a health threat to the population. Local authorities are urging mothers not to take their babies outside. The elderly have also been advised to stay indoors.

The cold weather conditions in recent weeks, combined with a lack of rain, created severe atmospheric pollution in much of the north of Italy. Since December the area has seen only two milliliters of rain.

The Cardinal of Turin has called for prayers for an abundant rainfall, both for the people and the countryside. Agriculture has suffered serious damage because of the weather.

In Milan, with streets closed to cars, people are riding bicycles and walking.

Weather forecasters say there is no rain in sight for the next few days. The President of the Lombardy region, Roberto Formigoni, says further measures will probably have to be adopted.

Starting Tuesday, he says, traffic will only be allowed to circulate on alternate days, based on whether the number plate of the car is odd or even. If there is still no rain by next weekend, he says all cars, for the first time in history, will be banned from downtown areas.