Crisis! What Crisis?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Dear Mum,

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

I can’t believe we’re already half way through March and this is the first Letter of the month. The truth is, nothing’s happened that’s inspired me to write. So I thought I’d give you an update on the water crisis in Cyprus. I know how concerned you must be!

And I have to confess that I was a little curious myself to see what’s being done to alleviate the situation. So I turned to the Cyprus Mail to see what the latest news is.

Once a country plagued by water cuts and shortages, Cyprus has recently enjoyed three good years of rainfall. As things now stand, the high rate of rainfall over the last three years has adequately filled the island’s dams and satisfied its needs, while two desalination plants in Cyprus are working to cover any shortages in household water demand. Plans for more desalination plants have been shelved after the recent bout of good rainfall.

Excellent news! At least, it was four years ago when that article was published. I bet they wish they’d built those extra desalination plants now!

I love the use of the word ‘Once‘ as well. As if it could never happen again.  An island which historically suffers from regular long periods of water shortage.

A spokesman for the Water Department said,

“Our job is to study the various scenarios, whether there will be dry years or plenty of rainfall and what can be done about it to have satisfactory use of water. We always plan ahead.”

Good idea. Be prepared! Robert Baden-Powell would have been proud!

“The aim is to have good management of available dam water and maximum use of treated water to avoid problems in the future.”

Really? That went well then!

So what went wrong? Why are the reservoirs all empty now? Just how far ahead did they plan?

Asked how long water supplies would last if the rain stopped, he replied,

“In an extreme scenario, where we had not a drop more water and maintained existing levels of demand, we would last for about a year.”

One year? That’s all? 115 reservoirs on the island and 2 desalination plants (plus treated water plants for agricultural purposes) and the island can only survive one year?

The current water crisis is extremely acute. Here we are half way through March and still waiting for the winter rains. There’s been virtually nothing. Just the odd shower. And hardly any snowfall up in the Troodos mountains to melt.

So just how bad is it? What is being done?

Now, after four successive years of sparse rainfall, water levels are dangerously low. Currently, there are 90 million litres of water to go around: 60 million litres from the dams  –  less than half the amount at the same time last year  –  and 30 million from the two desalination plants.

Doesn’t sound too bad. Serious, yes. Serious enough to warrant some extreme measures being taken in case there’s another year of low rainfall. But no real panic just yet.

The trouble is, that article is just over a year old. That was the scenario in January last year. Since when there’s been very little rain. That ‘60 million litres from the dams…’ has all gone. They’re all empty.

A spokesman for the Water Department said,

“A new campaign to save water will be undertaken while better use will be made of desalination facilities, which will form a significant cornerstone of policy in the coming years.

So what’s the policy?

The policy is to wean Cyprus away from its dependence on rainfall alone for its water supply.

Good thinking! Knew they’d get there in the end. Can’t rely on the weather. Never could. Never will.

At this stage, it’s all about managing existing water supplies, since building and operating a new desalination plant could take up to two years.

Bet they wish now that they’d started building it two years ago!

So what’s the latest plan?

There’s been quite a lot in the news recently about using tankers to ship water from Lebanon. I’ve heard people talking about it as if it’s the answer to the island’s prayers. Everyone seems hopeful that this will provide a short-term solution.

The water transport plans from Lebanon are, however, considered to be a possible short-term solution.”

I just said that!

Nicosia Water Board Director Nicos Zampakides told the Cyprus Mail,

“The company which is offering to provide the water tankers says that the tankers can circumvent the lack of infrastructure which would enable water delivery at our ports. They said that the tankers have pipes on board which can be used to unload the water off the tankers,”

That’s excellent. The Water Department is taking some serious action. Water from Lebanon can save us all.

The only problem with that is,

Lebanon said it had not even been asked for water and in any case had none to spare.


Still, it was a nice idea!

So now that the tankers-from-Lebanon-deal-that-never-was has fallen through, what new drastic measures does the Water Department plan to take to overcome the current worsening-day-by-day situation?

From an article published three days ago,

The Nicosia Water Board yesterday expressed its opposition to water cuts and advocated the encouragement of a water-saving mentality among the population.

“We’re expressing our concerns, nothing more.”

That’s it? They’re expressing their concerns? That’s all they’re doing?

They must know something that the rest of us don’t. Maybe they’ve found a way to control the weather and make it rain non-stop for the next six months.

As for ‘the encouragement of a water-saving mentality among the population’, I wouldn’t hold out too much hope, although I’m glad to say that some Cypriots do now seem to be taking it seriously. But I do get the impression that most of them think it’s somebody else’s problem and that someone somewhere is bound to do something about it.

The Cyprus Mail recently published its Ten Commandments of how we can all help to conserve water.

The list is too long to reproduce here, but I wrote a couple of months ago in my Letter entitled Raindrops On Rooftops about how grey water systems could help with a long-term solution to the island’s water problems, so I’m delighted to see at number 10,

10. If you are building or renovating a house, put in a grey water system. This will cost a few hundred pounds extra but will halve your water consumption.

I’d like to think that whoever compiled this list read my Letter before including it, but I doubt it. I imagine it’s been on the list for a while. They probably think that’s where I got the idea!

Still no mention of my Share-A-Shower scheme though…


©MPB 17/March/2008