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Italy is a dramatically beautiful country, but since Etruscan times humans have left their mark on the environment. Pollution problems caused by industrial and urban waste exist throughout Italy, with air pollution proving a problem in the more industrialised north of the country and in the major cities such as Rome, Milan and Naples. The seas, and consequently many beaches, are fouled to some extent, particularly on the Liguran coast, in the northern Adriatic (where there is an algae problem as a result of industrial pollution) and near major cities such as Rome and Naples. However, it is possible to find clean beaches, particularly on the islands of Sardinia and Sicily. Litter-conscious visitors to the peninsula will be astounded by the widespread habit that Italians have of dumping rubbish when  and where they like.

The Italian government's record on ecological and environmental issues has not been good, although in the past few years things have begun to improve. The Ministry for the Environment, created in 1986, is now taking a tougher line concerning the environment, partly in response to EU directives. However, environmental groups m maintain that the increase in the number of devastating floods which have hit parts of northern Italy in recent years and landslides in Campania are due not only to increase rainfall, but also to deforestation and excessive building near rivers. From 1984 to 1995, 20% of new houses were built without planning permits and environmental groups blames this on the government's failure to regulate urban planning. Environmental organisations active in Italy include the Lega Ambiente (Environmental  League; W www.legambiente.it ), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF; W www.wwf.it ), Greenpeace Italia (W www.greenpeace.it ) and the Lega Italiana Protezione Uccelli (Italian Bird Protection League; W www.lipu.it ).

Due in part to the lack of rain and intense heat during the summer months, forest fires are an annual torment in Italy. Not a few of the fires are started by arsonists - some of them wanting to clear forest land, others hoping to find work when it's time to replant the trees destroyed in the fire.

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