Italy's blighted south is heading for social and economic meltdown as a result of job losses, a massive exodus of people and "industrial desertification", according to an alarming new report.
Unemployment in the "Mezzogiorno" is around 25pc compared with the national average of 10pc, according to Svimez, a think tank on economic development for the region.
Less than one in four women work, 147,000 jobs were lost between 2007 and 2011 and 1.35m southerners fled the region in the last decade in search of better opportunities.
Many of them came from the region’s big cities, including Palermo and Catania in Sicily, Naples in Campania and Bari in Puglia.
They headed for more prosperous parts of Italy, notably Rome, Milan and the Emilia Romagna region, a powerhouse of food production and medium-sized businesses.
Consumer spending in the south has been stagnant for the last four years and GDP per capita is around half of that in the wealthy north of Italy.
A string of bitter industrial disputes, involving a steel works in Puglia and a coal mine and aluminium plant in Sardinia, have focussed attention in recent weeks on the south’s industrial decline and lack of investment.
The sobering report was released as Mario Monti, the prime minister, tries to reassure Europe (Chicago Options: ^REURUSD - news) and the United States that Italy is no longer at risk from eurozone contagion and that the fundamentals of the economy are sound.