YOUTH PROGRAMME : Water and Sanitation in Greece

Greece! Known for its ancient ruins, breath-taking sights, and raw nature, it is full of history. A history which I feel privileged to have known. As part of a Youth Programme, in collaboration with SCI Hellas and the European Union, my brief stay of five weeks in this country has proved to be fruitful, on both a personal and a professional level. This programme aims at ensuring that water becomes and remains a human right and a common good, not a commodity for profit-making. My purpose in Greece is to help develop strategies to understand and combat the various water issues prevailing here. Throughout my journey, I have uncovered many layers of the Greek water history which unfortunately mirrors innumerable issues.
My first stop – Thessaloniki – where was organised an international conference on water, which brought together various activists from different countries as well as international experts on water. Views and experiences were exchanged and I realised that compared to Mauritius, water issues pertaining in many countries are tremendously alarming. I had also the privilege to meet with a Professor in Civil Engineering at the University of Thessaloniki, Professor K. Katsifarakis’, whose expertise in the technical issues revolving around water is unparalleled. I noted a tone of deep concern during our conversations regarding goldmine issues in Chalkidiki, a region in the northern part of Greece.
A visit there shed more light on my research on water issues in Greece. Local activists confirmed that goldmine is and remains a major issue in the daily lives of the inhabitants and the surrounding nature reserves. These issues persist as they are twofold: should goldmines be closed, vast unemployment will be a definite aftermath; should this activity endure, the nature reserves will be massively destroyed.
Further down my way, I ended up in Volos, a stupefying county with scenic mountain views. The inhabitants have been drawing water from a sanatorium source which passes through several villages across the mountain, mainly for their personal use and for irrigation purposes. Here, I learned that the Government intends on chlorinating the mountain’s pure water source, stating that it is not clean and is now planning to close these channels and place hydrometers for each users, so as to charge them.
The inhabitants are actively fighting to prevent the state from closing these water channels to the public and turning this pure water source into a commodity for sale.  They have voted several referendums and organised road demos against this issue, without any response from the government. According to certain sources, reports on water samples have been forged and submitted to the government to show that the water is unclean so as to support its “preventive chlorination” as they call it and which should be undertaken by private companies. The villagers have had their own tests done at several occasions with recognised laboratories and the result contradicts the government’s report : the water did not meet the characteristics for it to be chlorinated. This water running deep within the mountains belong to nature and to the inhabitants of Volos and should, at no cost, be privatised for business purposes and profit-making. The people of Volos have more rights on this water than any other.
Aegina Island – located 27 km from Athens, another magnificent place with yet another sad water story – faces countless complications connected to underground water which is supplied on the island. As this water mixes with sea water, the end product is salted drinking water which, without a doubt, has high implications as to health problems. Although desalination is carried out in certain places, the water is still not entirely clean and safe. As an alternative solution, a shipment of 1500 m3 of water is carried out four times daily from Athens to Aegina Island. It should be noted that this is a temporary alternative and should not be viewed as a permanent solution.
The inhabitants have to consume mainly bottled water and are still waiting for the Government to deliver on its promise to build a connecting pipe from Athens to Aegina. According to certain sources, the desalination of water has been blocked in certain regions of the island by ship owners who runs the business of transporting clean water from Athens.  In other regions of Aegina, requests for the desalination of water by the inhabitants cannot be entertained by the government as the island is situated in a gulf and the sea is not optimal for that purpose. On other islands such as Milos and Kephallonia, maintenance of the equipment for desalination was so costly that it forced the municipalities to switch back to water ships.
The final stop of my journey is Athens where researches are still being undertaken on the current water situation. Although Greece has one of the greatest water resources potentials per capita in the Mediterranean area, and should have ample water for its population, water is not evenly distributed in space and time. Access to clean water and sanitation is crucial for every population and is essential to the realisation  of all human rights as stated by the United Nations.