Natural beauty, fertile lands and good food, this the description of the southern regions of Italy, a piece of heaven on Earth which the Ancient Romans used to call “Campania felix” meaning happy Campania, because of the land’s extraordinary fertility which was capable of producing four harvests a year. But now that land is barren and is named: the land of fires. This horrific descent to hell has happened because for decades, parts of Campania have been used for illegal dumping, burning and disposal of toxic waste under the management of the local mafia, the Camorra.the mafia received toxic waste from northern Italy and buried it or burned it in their private fiefdom. At its height, the business made at least €1.25 million a month. But this lucrative business has had disastrous effects on the environment and worse still on the public’s health.
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This is the story of poison and decline, of criminal affairs and corrupted politicians.
This is the story of a raped land: a story of death, black smoke and stinging throats.
It's the story of brave mothers and of a frontier priest.
The story of men never surrender, even whenever one else thinks they are crazy, and of a journalist that names names.
This is the story of doctors that pleading with the government and of a government that keeps the evidences of a disaster hidden.
RAFFAELE DEL GIUDICE – PRESIDENT OF ASIA NAPOLI:
3.000 committees on ecomafia, 3.000 documents, 3.000 missions. Everyone knew everything. And everything had been told to everyone. I still ask myself: why did they cover this with official secret? What was there to hide? This mountain of false paper is still hiding mountains of waste.
ENZO TOSTI – ACTIVIST:
We are not scientists, we are activists, voluntary workers. We are not doctors. We don't give answers, we want answers!
ARNALDO CAPEZZUTO – INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST:
The truth is that there are some lands which must be concreted and everything around must be emptied. Those lands will be closed, they will be a desert, because they cannot be reclaimed. You cannot go 40 metres underground and remove all waste. That's impossible.
We are asking you why, you have to give us some answers. Look, once again they're massacring us and they're raping our life and this land. Because they continue telling lies!
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Considering the fact that there's all that stuff down there, in 2064 the areas surrounding the storages that contain this kind of waste will turn into a desert. Everything will be polluted: aquifers will be polluted, those people who have been absorbing those substances for years will die... Unfortunately, this is the truth. A tragic truth.
This is a system crisis! They don't tell the truth because this would call into question the whole financial, economic and industrial system. That's the truth!
In southern Italy, between the provinces of Naples and Caserta, the environmental damage is accord the form of waste. Not simple waste, but special industrial waste.
This is a complex story, which links organised crime, industries and politics. This story begins with toxic waste left in the countryside and burned, day and night.
That place is called “the land of fires”.
Here we are in Orta di Atella, in the heart of the Land of Fires. This has become a place where burnings are systematically set on fire. This hill is made of combusted material: to reach this cubage, tons and tons of toxic, industrial waste has been burnt. There was a burning there, another burning there. That's a corn field, this one is a field were potatoes are planted. When these substances are burnt, pollutants remain in the combusted material. So, rain seeps through the combusted material, then through the ground and they arrive at the aquifer.
Campania is a grazing land, a paradise for agriculture: ancient romans called it Campania felix, “the happy land”, because, in few square kilometres, this region combined prosperity and a mild climate, sea and volcanic soils. It was one of world's most beautiful and fertile places. Now is only a poisoned, sick land which remains. This is the story of the biggest mass poisoning ever known in the history of the western world.
Here we find empty buckets of glues. And it's not just a bucket. Just here there are... 1, 2, 3... there must be ten buckets. Since these are chemical glues... when they're burnt, they cause incredible damages to the environment and to this area. Here, all that is burnt and that produces dioxin settles in these plantations. At present, there are broad bean plants here.
You see? Rubble, these are special waste. And we don't find just concrete, bricks and bitumen... we also find asbestos. Asbestos, in this form, is very dangerous because it's smashed. One single fibre would be enough: when it goes in the lungs you're screwed.
These are asphalt roofs no longer in use: when they're burnt, they're like an eternal furnace. Fire lasts up to 15-20 days.
It is called “The Land of Fires” because there's the phenomenon of burning waste. If there's a road where recruiters of day laborers have the possibility to dump waste when this road is covered in waste, there's no more place to dump it. However, if I hire immigrants that I pay 5-10 euros per day for being ready with a canister of petrol to set fire to waste and run away combustion does produce dioxine, but it also burns waste and makes decrease its volume. In this way, I always have enough place to continue dumping waste.
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Raffaele Del Giudice:
Small enterprises that dispose waste illegally with the aim of evading taxes and of not recording the output so they get rid of their output without declaring it. It's a path where illegality gives birth to illegality.
There are local undeclared activities that work and are also useful for big domestic industry which needs waste to be disposed like that. Because it has an undeclared output, which doesn't exist and cannot be disposed in special landfills. So this production has to be disposed in countrysides and burned. This is the phenomenon of burnings, which originates from a need of local industry linked to big Italian industry.
Organised crime plays a huge role in this story. The Camorra, one of the oldest and biggest criminal groups of Italy, runs and regulates illegal waste disposal, controls the territory and organises burnings.
These burnings, however, are just the visible aspect: the real issue is the burial of dangerous material. Huge holes in the ground are filled with industrial waste of every kind.
This has happened in Campania for more than 20 years: 410.000 trucks have crossed Italy from north to south carrying more than 10 millions of tons of toxic waste. Everything began in the 1980s.
There are two parallel stories. The first one is a story about the Camorra. Also about an intuition Camorra had. It was the 70s and everything revolved around Mr Cipriano Chianese. His family was really poor. After enrolling at university he became a lawyer. He started to be acquainted with judges because he was a good lawyer. But he also started to say “I don't want to be just a lawyer” and he began getting interested in waste. At the beginning of the 80s, he set up a small firm for the disposing of special waste.
In his small town he had contacts that made him become a close friend of Mr Francesco Bidognetti who is an important person of Casalesi clan, of this big camorra that is different from Neapolitan Camorra: this Camorra is organised in cells present across the territory which fall under one single boss.
This lawyer, in the shade of Bidognetti, started to build important relationships very simply, but also very rapidly. The small limited company became something important.
Chianese started thinking: “what's the element that makes me indispensable for the community?” “Having storages”. So he began buying lands, quarries and agricultural lands to turn them into storages. Then something happened. In 1994 waste crisis was officially born in Campania. This presupposes a state of crisis and, as a consequence, measures that elude the national regulatory framework. Camorra members who had organised this sleeper system came into play.
At this point, heavy industry said: “you have all these instruments, we don't want to spend a lot of money for legal disposals: let's make an agreement”. And they managed to industrialize the disposal of toxic waste.
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This means that they decided to take those sleeper structures and to contaminate them with waste disposal.
The story of Campania is, first of all, a story of betrayal. Streets are covered in rubbish, mountains of waste invade the cities. However, as it happens for toxic burnings, this is just the more visible problem, and also a way to distract attention from what actually happens. While everyone talks about the emergency regarding urban waste, hundreds of trucks pour tons of toxic industrial waste in countrysides. The birth “Ecomafia”. The principal players in this are politicians, the Camorra and the barons of heavy industry.
Raffaele Del Giudice:
“Ecomafia” has organised a system, it has made up for the lack of disposal facilities for industries by creating a system of connivances. But, above all, this was the solution for a disposal problem a part of Northern Italy had; it had to get rid of big quantities of slags covertly. This was the beginning.
When I saw those bins for the first time it was a shock for me. In my mind, only seeds could be put underground, to make trees grow, anything else.
Smoke came out, people started being sick, their tongues became swollen, an absurd situation. Everyone was shocked. That shock lasted for too long.
Understanding what was happening here wasn't up to us. We have been accused by people saying “you saw it, why didn't you talk about that?”. But what did we see?
In the early 90s we had already sensed that there was something wrong, because we went in the countrysides and we found powders coming from steelworks waste, we found things coming from industries... and we told ourselves that something was wrong!
Antonio Marfella – Oncologist:
We are talking about hundreds of thousands of chemical substances, so that's a real stoning. All those substances concentrated in specific territories kill you. Here there was no Fukushima or Chernobyl: the only thing we know for sure is that here they poured toxic waste.
We've been fighting for 20 years now, but the problem is to understand who you're fighting against and how you have to fight.
More than 6.000 burnings in only six months, 110 dumpsites financed with 148 million Euros, 70 unauthorized dumpings, more than 2558 potentially polluted sites: Campania is a territory under attack. The Italian State has issued, embarrassingly late, a mapping of vulnerable territories. The percentage of dangerous sites is said to be around 2%, but this figure is laughable.
The true story is this: in Campania, for more than 25 years, soil, air and water have been absorbing carcinogenic substances: dioxin, heavy metals, benzene, mercury, arsenic. A continuous attack. An real “biocide” in broad daylight.
We are treading on toxic industrial waste. Here there are 25 years of discharge of toxic waste coming from industries in Northern Italy. Here there are chemical substances that have been poured: a discharge of 200.000 cubic meters.
This was a tuff quarry.
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All quarries in our territory have been the subject of this kind of discharge because once their activity terminated and once they've stopped being used to quarry tuff, they became places where it was easy to pour waste. In most cases, these quarries were the property of Camorra families. This area is easy to enter: it's not closed and there's not even a sign saying “No trespassing”. There's no barbed wire, no enclosure, no sign saying “Danger”. There's nothing here. And what does the government do? It issues this shameful mapping. It like seems a paradox, but this quarry is not included in that mapping.
Raffaele Del Giudice:
Aquifers are polluted in those areas. There's no doubt that some countrymen had to abandon their fields because they didn't produce anything. So, there was an absence of production. Not because there was a control, but because that land gave a natural answer: you're poisoning me and I stop.
Not only illegal discharge of those hazardous wastes have polluted lands, but polluted the production of farmers. Their products were also exported abroad. There are people who ate those products, then they had children who were born “modified”. The “biocide” has already happened, we pretend not to see it but it's there. There are whole generations – father, son, son of the son – that were “defective”. There was negligence because nobody could imagine that we were facing one of those things that cannot happen in a modern democracy.
The first warning signs of this environmental catastrophe with public participation was evident in the fruits of the land. Then, it was the turn of animals. The environmental and landscape capital that is typical of the Campania region is slowly disappearing. Apart from nature itself, by now devastated, it is agriculture and breeding that bear the brunt of it. An immense damage on the biological level. But this is also an economic disaster, damaging the image of breeders and rural enterprises.
Raffaele Del Giudice:
Those countrymen are keepers of an ancient art. One who plants a plant takes a considerable business risk. It's an act of confidence, because the person doesn't know if that plant will become a tree or not. The countryman does that every time with his tradition, the love for his land. After a year of harvest, countrymen pass through that with a tractor because they don't have the courage to bring those products to the market.
It's the massacre of a big part of productive activities, that must restart and that will restart. It's a huge environmental crime. I think that in an advanced country as ours is having permitted Camorra – which managed toxic waste disposal – to run a part of Europe for 20 years is a massacre. And it concerns Europe.
Lino Martone – Farmers Union:
This is a letter we received some days ago. Subject: notice of termination of the contract for milk delivery. If we only consider the price of milk, which decreased at least 20 cents, we have huge losses of at least 100 million euros at the expense of agriculture.
The issue of the Land of Fires has also been used instrumentally. And it was used to damage rearings on the economic level. Continuing talking about the Land of Fire meant that big dairy factories would use this excuse to impose economic rules to small breeders.
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Campania has the most fertile land of whole Europe, this is known since the Roman times. We were called “Campania Felix”. The foodstuffs of my land are known and envied in the entire world, and they're the basis of the Mediterranean diet, which is approved and known in the entire world. Olive oil, buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes.
20 years ago in Campania people didn't know words such as autism, Alzheimer disease, heart attack, cancer, diabetes or ictus. In my region, home of the Mediterranean diet, these diseases were unknown.
By now, damages are irreparable. That's why we talk about “permanent effects” - e.g. during trials. That is, the prosecution has elaborated this very term. These effects will be permanent, even with the passing of time. Or rather, they will undergo some modifications.
Within the story of Campania there is also the story of a mystery. A secret that has been hidden for years and that for years was buried in drawers and consciences of the Italian parliament. Carmine Schiavone, a supergrass from the Casalesi Camorra clan, told the parliamentary committee of inquiry on waste everything about what was happening in Campania. He named names and places. He said “in 20 years, everyone there will be dead”.
This was 1997: his words were covered under the official secret act and have been kept hidden until today. 20 years ago, theIitalian government already knew everything.
Carmine Schiavone gave very creepy details to the Committee. He gave the list of all the vehicles carrying waste: what kind of truck, the colour, who was the driver, registration plates, vehicle identification numbers. Because he managed the accounting of Casalesi clan, so he had the accounting books. It was a real scientific thing that wasn't declared and he had to make calculations. Moreover, he specified the area's depth. These documents are covered with official secret, 20 years pass by and everything has been removed.
Raffaele Del Giudice:
Reading the declarations of that person there's nothing that we didn't already know. The other serious aspect was the chloroform technique that parts of the State and of the institutions wanted to hide. I still have inside me: I still don't understand the official secret covering the declarations of people who buried poison underground.
I remember that, last summer, at one point, the Environment Committee of the Senate came here and said “we came here to understand what is happening in Campania”. We were offended! Because we presented two Senate acts which dated back to 1997 and 1998. So, stop kidding us! Don't say “we came here to see what happened”. You already know everything.
Father Maurizio Patriciello :
Some days ago, a 41-year-old man, married and with young children, died: a tumour. Today, a 22-year-old girl died of a tumour: the funeral will take place tomorrow. In our families, there always are one or two people suffering from tumours. I told those who govern us: I'm not a scientist, I'm a priest. I don't make a diagnosis, I bring you the symptom, I collect people's pain. I bring you facts, people's names, surnames and age.
I should thank toxic burnings, because if it didn't happen we wouldn't see the burial of waste... we wrote and we read about it, but you couldn't see it. You know, when something is far from you, you're not concerned in a strong way. But burnings were different, they burned at any time of the day.
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Father Maurizio Patriciello :
I remember a night of June, 2012: a horrible stink entered the house. I could hear my neighbours closing their windows and I closed mine too, but by then the stink had invaded the whole house. I found myself standing in front of the crucifix, and I was so angry. I said: “My Lord... what are you asking me?”
At time when there was no inkling of this, Father Maurizio Patriciello started his own battle. He managed to enter people's consciences, to strike them. He spoke as a real minister. Notably, his church is in Caivano, in a district where poor people live, people with a burdensome judicial past. He concretely saw mothers losing their children.
It's obvious that, as a clergymen, he felt the need of being on the barricades. Because, you know, people start saying “this is my life, why should I respect these rules, these laws that didn't protect me and that took my dear ones away from me?”. In this context, Father Patriciello managed to temper, to organise and to pave the way for dialogue.
Since he's the one who officiates at weddings and funerals, one day he got fed up and said “I'm officiating so many funerals: what is happening?”. And we all met at Father Maurizio's.
Father Maurizio Patriciello:
We put together all the already existing committees of the territory, which were broken apart and weren't strong. We created the Coordinamento, technical boards of lawyers and doctors, because I understood that I couldn't do anything alone. I'm a priest, I can inform a bit, but we need specialists.
This experience began and today the “Coordinamento Comitati Fuochi” coordinates 70 associations of the cities and provinces of Naples and Caserta. We want an acknowledgement of what is happening here, which is different from compensation in money. We want this situation to be acknowledged by the Italian government, because it still doesn't acknowledge it clearly.
Person From The Coordinamento:
Thanks to Father Maurizio, who hosts us as usual. You know that, within the scope of the “Coordinamento Comitati Fuochi”, there are the activities of the legal group. Today, we are going to talk about our appeals to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
RAFFAELE DEL GIUDICE:
People started saying: now we see what is happening. We make an admission of guilt: “we realized too late”. That was the moment when the mass protest became different. People have become expert, have started making inquiries. Doctors have started raising the alarm. Some doctors have started saying: “we must take over the fact that we've underestimated the problem for years”. It is true that people get sick there because environmental matrices weaken them. Does this mean that we're all in danger? Absolutely not. I live there, but I'm resisting.
We decided to stand up even accepting the criticism of those denying the disaster. We decided to stand up because we were shocked by receiving requests for assistance for cancer from 20-year-old people. We're the only European Cancer Institute for adults which felt the need of opening a game room. Not because we cure children, but because there are very young patients, with young children, coming here for chemotherapy. This clearly is a problem against nature, linked to an environmental pollution which is against nature.
Children born in my region know that their average life expectancy is at least two years lower than that of all other children born in Italy.
Marzia Caccioppoli – Antonio's Mother:
Then, a period came when, at 2 a.m., we could smell burnt bones, plastic, tyres. And we didn't understand why. Then, Antonio got sick, the experience in Genoa hospital began. When I came back, I learned that the boom of the “Land of Fires” had started.
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Pina Leanza– Tonia's Mother:
Resonance imaging, examinations, electrocardiograms. I spoke with doctors and I didn't understand. “Madam, it's a tumour, maybe you don't realize that. It's a tumour”. But it was impossible for me... I couldn't even think about a tumour in my daughter's head.
Imma Di Vilio – Mesia's Mother:
The food is always that: when you breast-feed a child... and I breast-fed her so who knows what I may have given her. Then I weaned her: courgettes, carrots, potatoes... We didn't know anything, so what can I say: I gave her poison.
In order to understand what is happening in the “Land of Fires”, we have to count. Count the people who died from a cancer, count the decimated families.
This is the story of an Italian epidemic a shocking plague clearly shown by medical records. In Campania the risk of lung cancer is 30% higher than the national average and the average mortality risk is 9% higher for men and 12% higher for women. Congenital abnormalties have increased by 83%.
But the real massacre concerns children: they die at 2, 6, 12 years old, and in Naples Pediatric Cancer Institute beds are never empty.
My name is Marzia Caccioppoli and I'm the mother of Antonio, a child who died at 9 and a half years old from multifocal glioblastoma. Our story begins with us going on holiday. Antonio had a slowness of movement and we came back to Naples. After a month in the hospital, the neurologist suggested us to go in Gaslini Hospital in Genoa. There, a biopsy showed that Antonio had a stage four craniospinal glioblastoma. It was a very advanced glioblastoma, something you cannot escape from. In Genoa, the first thing they asked me was where I came from. If, where I lived, there were firms or power stations...
Glioblastoma is very common in Japan, where people get sick for reasons linked to Hiroshima and radioactivity. It's a disease affecting people between 50 and 70 years old that have been absorbing heavy metals in their organisms during their whole lives. Who could imagine a 9-year-old child with this disease?
I'm convinced that this has to do with environment because in Acerra, my town, there are four cases of neuroglioblastoma. The statistics say one case every 100,000 people. In Acerra there are 56,000 inhabitants and four children are sick.
Imma Di Vilio:
My daughter was two and a half years old, but I also saw little children, newborns. I fought beside my daughter without asking questions, because I blamed myself. I asked myself what I had done wrong and what I hadn't paid attention to. Then, I started noticing that in the hospital there weren't mothers coming from the North: all the mothers came from villages nearby and spoke with my same accent. I asked them where they were from and they always came from areas not far from my town.
The disease did in 20 days what it hadn't done in 4 years. In 20 days, I saw my daughter with headache, unable to stand and to walk. She even started peeing and pooping in her pants. Then she couldn't see anymore... and she passed away. Twenty days.
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When I realized that her last moments had arrived, the only thing I thought to do was to pick her up. Her heartbeats slowed down. I pulled wires out and decided to go home. I whispered to her that I was taking her home, I picked her up and I went away. She died when we had almost reached home.
The thing that strikes most is not just the number of cases, but also the appearance of very aggressive tumours which were rare before and unusual for those age brackets. It's clear that this leads to the founded suspicion that there's a direct link between the appearance of these very rare and aggressive tumours and the local features. This happened only in Campania.
The beautiful thing is that, in the tragedy these women live, there's a form of rebellion, of not accepting this condition. There's a strong indignation. There's no resignation. These women didn't resign themselves to this.
When you lose a child... I think that a mother, for her child, shows a courage which comes from inside. It's something natural, a natural instinct, the protection of children. Since we couldn't protect our children from this environmental disaster, we protect at least their memory. I will fight, together with the other mums, so that our children will be acknowledged as victims of the environmental disaster.
Imma Di Vilio:
We turned pain in strength. We came together and it was a good thing: the other mums are like sisters for me. Because if we smile, it's pain that we have in common. Nobody can judge us, we live the same reality.
We started feeling a sort of anger. Because we know what suffering is... we know the moments of wait outside the operating suite, outside the resonance imaging rooms... We know well what being in this kind of situations means, with such strong feelings... So, our desire is not to make other people feel the same, but to try to save children and our land. Because it's ours.
I have to fight, so I do it. I must do it because it's my duty as a mum and as a citizen... I'm an optimist. I have to win. For Tonia.
Father Maurizio Patriciello:
One morning, while I was praying, the idea of sending some postcards came into my mind. I wrote on Facebook right away: “Guys, what do you think of that?”.
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Father Maurizio Patriciello:
We took the pictures of eleven mums, a very touching pictures. Mums in their children's bedroom, holding their death children's picture. We printed 150,000 postcards. Half of them were sent to the Pope and the other half to the President of the Republic.
The day after Tonia's death, an article by Father Maurizio was published: “In Acerra, the umpteenth death of a little girl called Tonia”. I thanked him privately via Facebook and he wrote to me: “You know, I've been thinking of doing some postcards, in bedrooms, with pictures of the children...”. I answered him to just tell me how and when.
We came together, fourteen mothers standing up for this battle. But there have been so many mums that knowing it makes you shiver.
Imma Di Vilio:
We're actually denouncing this. The time has come to stop being quiet!
Father Maurizio Patriciello:
We ran out of them within a week. Parishes, cultural societies, schoolchildren, political parties and families took these postcards. They just had to stamp them and to write what they wanted to the President or to the Pope.
This is not just a cry of pain, but also a cry to tell the world, not only Italy, the truth, about what is really happening and what they're destroying. Because children are dying, here, and children are the future. Nothing will remain.
What happens when everything around is nothing but distroyed land, poisoned animals and countless deaths? What happens if a criminal, cowardly past gives birth to a present dominated by fear and doubts? Campania is a broken place: it has, at the same time, been betrayed by the state, an atrocious experiment carried out by the Camorra and an irreparable damage. It is an unknown future. But what happens if an entire population rises up to say “no more”?
There was an actual break, also about the typical I-don't-see-I-don't-hear-attitude of Campania, which looks the other way. Because unfortunately, when members of your family start dying and tumours start spreading as they were a seasonal influenza, you become aware all of a sudden. It is of course a positive thing that people organised committees, that committees created territorial commands and that every municipality is going into action.
Raffaele Del Giudice:
I'm happy that the problem of the “Land of Fires” is now of us all. I'm happy that the things we said 20 years ago now are well known by all the community. This was the hardest part of our struggle, but also the most beautiful. Anyway, we did it.
Today each of us has knowledge, each of us knows something, so we have to use this treasure, which is part of our patrimony as activists to draw attention to this issue. Not only with respect to the media, but also by trying to increase people's awareness. This is why we won't stop, because we don't want our land to be stolen anymore
We have to hold on to our land! We don't have to go away, we don't have to run away! We are the resources, here. We are the vital energy that can make this land alive again. We are the children of this land and we have to stay here: this is why we won't stop. No one will stop us. I don't know what we will do next, as activists, as committees... but surely we will not remain silent anymore, we will not bow our heads. They will have to beware now!
On november 16th, 2013, Naples was invaded by an enormous parade crossing the city in the rain. For the first time, after 20 years of lies and poisons, the citizens of the “Land of Fires” come together to say stop to the “biocide”. Everyone was there: associations, committees, but also mothers, artists, doctors, researchers and students.
Over 120.000 people.
This is also the story of a revolution: a flooding river that has burst its banks and is asking for truth and justice.
We managed to create something that was unimaginable just some months ago. We are the people of the revolution, the people of the parade of the 120,000. We are the people of the flooding river. We will continue.