Wanted: A strategy for water resources

Infrequent reports on the water reserves of Greece and the broader region paint a very bleak picture of the future. Repeated warnings, however, have failed to prompt any action. And no government has braved the political cost of punishing farmers for their excessive use of water which, especially on the Thessaly plain, has reached unnerving proportions. Scientific findings demonstrate that continuing indifference about the waste of water resources has had very alarming consequences. A recent conference on water organized by the Citizens’ Movement for an Open Society concluded that 86 percent of Greece’s total water consumption is used for irrigation purposes, while the area of Thessaly alone accounts for 21.7 percent of national consumption. Athens, an urban center of some 4 million inhabitants, consumes less than 4 percent of the available resources. Farmers’ excessive consumption of water is more evident in the Thessaly region. Memories of the cotton subsidy dispute are still fresh. The public was stunned by reports that the farmers of the Thessaly plain break EU production quotas on a product that is subsidized at four times its price. This time the public was told that cotton production absorbs over one-fifth of the country’s water. It is no surprise that other related aspects are also ignored. One of these is the illegal drilling for water and the excessive use of pesticides. Mismanagement has affected the quality of fresh water, the pollution of resources by pesticides and their residues, the intrusion of seawater into coastal aquifers, and the gradual desertification of land by diverting rivers toward cultivating crops or poorly placed ornamental plants that require huge quantities of water. Water mismanagement is having a disastrous effect on Greece’s water resources and countryside. The deterioration is happening so fast that we cannot afford to stand still. The country needs a new strategy on water resources. The political system must stop pandering to the farmers’ whims and make them face up to the disquieting facts. For their part, farmers must realize that should Greece be hit by a water shortage, they would be the first to suffer.