Monday, May 25, 2009

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Cyprus is strategically located in the Mediterranean less than 50 miles from Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. It is about the size of Long Island with a population the size of Tucson, some 750,000, a growth of roughly 50% in the past 20 years.

The prime reason for its’ continued importance is its’ location. British and American forces continue to have listening posts on their bases there for obvious reasons. Over the centuries the location also made it a commercial hub and target of occupiers from the Minoans to the British. The most recent invasion was the Turks in 1974, after which the island was divided roughly in half with a three mile UN buffer zone between the Greek half and the Turkish half. The Greek section, the Republic of Cyprus, is the more populous and that is where we will focus as the information is more readily available.

Water has been a major problem on Cyprus since man moved there. The first recorded case of its almost being deserted for lack of water, was in 309 AD.. What water supply they have comes from mountain snowfall and aquifers. Given the situation one might assume that the governments would have attempted to give the problem a top priority. Through out most of their history, the governments stayed in denial taking the population with them.

Historically there have been some attempts to ameliorate the problem. The Romans, Greeks, and Venetians all developed cistern systems, but this is a major earthquake zone and the stone available is a very porous limestone. About 1/3 of all buildings along the most populated western zone fall to earthquakes every 10 years. This seems unimaginable, but the stone and the building codes which are 18% as stringent as those in Great Britain make it a reality. It also makes building a comprehensive water system all the more complex.

Currently there is rampant, uncontrolled construction along the coast which brings in more people and covers over more arable land. This in turn keeps more rain water out of the aquifers. This water could be diverted to cisterns, but isn’t.

As late as the end of June, the government was boasting to the inter-National media that now water was available to all households 24/7. It was a boldfaced lie.

They do have the world’s largest per capita network of dams, but they are less than 5% full. Any water drawn from them is so high in bacteria that the chlorine used makes your eyes water when you enter a bathroom. Also there are earthen dams, built according to Cypriot standards so if there is a lot of rain they either overflow or burst.

The aquifers have been so overused that they now carry salt water that has leeched into the vacant spaces from the sea.

The prominent tourist areas have been bringing in water by ship under the cover of darkness. Yes, really!

We were there during the rainy season of March, April and May. Water was ‘iffy’. The local Muchtars, or mayors, were given a figure of how much water they had to save each month. Nothing was dictated as to how this was to be each housing area had its’ own water system so he would usually turn the water off in the areas with the least votes, in other words European and British ex-pats…! One week we went 5 days without. This meant buying and hauling gallons of water daily up a mind boggling number of stone steps.

Finally, in July, the powers that be decided they need to start bringing in potable water for public consumption from Greece. The ship arrived. It took a week for them to figure out how to get the water into the supply. When they finally did they discovered that the last thing the thing the Tanker had carried had been turpentine.

The ships now arrive regularly, but cannot really solve the problem. News agencies are now reporting that water is available to the population twice a week for 8 hours. They are still not informed as to when that will be. Baths are from a bucket which is then used for clothing and then floors and then to flush the toilets. Washers and dishwashers cannot be used because you don’t know when the water will be turned off and the machines ruined.

The whole problem begs some serious questions.

1. Can the governments in Cyprus overcome their apathy and depoliticize the water problem? Possibly pipe water in from Turkey? Probably never!

2. Will they have the will to establish a nationally controlled, integrated, water system that can handle both potable water and “gray” water for watering, cleaning the streets etc.? Probably not!

3. Could they establish a nationwide education and subsidy program to help individuals to install private cisterns, “gray’ water catch basins, and water conservation beginning in schools? Unlikely!

This is Cyprus with over 2000 years of warning.

What about us? Are we ready?