The Misuse of Water

Water is the common necessity of man, but we live in a world of uneven distribution. In many countries people take water for granted, knowing it will flow from the taps, whilst being vaguely aware that in some far flung place there is the odd water shortage, highlighted when a drought killing millions ends up on the television news. The fact is drought is a way of life for many and death from the lack of water is too commonplace to be newsworthy.

When a populace is reduced to selling their blood for a bottle of water it only becomes news when it breaks into a riot, and a celebrity hasn’t done something to steal the headlines. It is of no real matter to the rich nations now as it doesn’t affect them, but when it begins to lead to countries being abandoned as the poor move west to satisfy their need for water, it will become an international issue which may even provoke war.

There are many places now which hover between all out drought and plenty. Greece is one of them. It is a European country which will face a water crisis before too long, and little thought is put into preventing it. For too long Greece has encouraged mass tourism without the water supplies to cater to it, preferring to know that the winter rains will keep coming and they can fiddle around making adjustments in the summer. The increase in building does not take into account the lack of water to sustain the extra households.

The irony is that Greece of course is surrounded by sea, and has always been a hot dry country, yet there is no strong initiative in place to take account of the new and constant demands of the water supply. A country which runs on nepotism and bribes looks to the immediate gain, rather than the long term threat.

I live in the Peloponnese on the Greek mainland. It is a rural area which luckily has lots of natural spring water sources, and the local villages have taps where drinking water supplies can be topped up when there is no mains water.

The population has lived in the same traditional way for centuries, and the last major local battles over water were settled under the Juanta, when the army was called in to compel the mayor of one local village which had a good water supply, to allow the neigboring village access to it. The problem was solved swiftly as the army simply threatened to shoot the selfish mayor who didn’t want to share the village water supply. The tactic worked a treat.

The area has always been primarily reliant on the olive crop for food and the trees are naturally watered with the winter rains, and don’t need additional water during the year.

In the last 3 decades changes have been seen, firstly with the beginnings of tourism to the area, and then with the new building which has taken place. Many foreigners fall in love with the area and have a holiday home built here, or move permanently to the area. Their needs are not however the traditional needs of the local Greeks.

Despite most of the new houses which spring up being a stones throw from the sea, recent developments have seen the increase in private swimming pools by foreign encroachers. The people are welcome as good for the local economy, but their pools are spoken of with disgust, as already the water shortages are making themselves known, and the local population rightly point out the sea is there thus there is no need for pools.

The majority of the pools are illegal as no planning permission was sought, as the newcomers left themselves in the hands of the local builders who were happy to help out for the extra profit. A blind eye was turned to the planning permissions necessary as the builders simply greased the palms of the powers which grant it.

They also plant fancy gardens, which involve lots of watering of plants and flowers, whilst the locals are only watering their vegetables and grow the flowers and fruit trees which survive without being hose-piped daily.

At the same time the country pays no attention to the fact that all these properties spring up without an adequate water supply and mains drainage is not even considered. The waste simply goes into cess pits which are emptied by tankers. That was fine when there was a small population to consider but it isn’t a long term solution.

Rotted pipes are left to burst and lay wasting much needed water, whilst household taps run dry with increasing frequency year after year. The only way to ensure the  summer tourists have water in their accommodation is to turn off the water in the villages which lie above the tourist areas and send it to the tourists first, as their needs must be met first as they will be unlikely to return to a destination which can’t provide them with water.

Short thinking, or rather non existent policies regarding water, take no account of the growing water crisis. The concerns may appear petty when compared to the real problems facing those at crisis point, but unless they are addressed Greece will become a country with a permanent and unprepared for water shortage.