It has now been one full week since much of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, has been without running water, following a mysterious “malfunction” in the city’s main pipeline
EYATH, the city’s water utility, has stated that the malfunction was repaired as of Friday, followed by an almost 24-hour period during which the city’s network of pipes had to be cleaned. Nevertheless, some parts of Thessaloniki remain without water today, one week after the initial outage.
The past week saw scenes in Thessaloniki resembling a third world country, as residents waited in queues at public taps with large bottles and containers. On the part of EYATH, no apology for the outage was issued until Sunday, despite there being no water since the previous Monday.
Interestingly enough, the outage came almost immediately after Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras, in a speech in Thessaloniki, promised (yet again) that the city’s water utility will not be privatized. The timing of this outage, immediately after these statements, is odd to say the least.
As is standard practice with the current SYRIZA-led government, blame was assigned to the previous governments, which are apparently the root cause of all of Greece’s ills, if not all of the ills of Europe and beyond. In a radio interview, Sokratis Famellos, the SYRIZA-led government’s deputy minister of the environment and energy and a member of parliament from the B’ district of Thessaloniki, blamed past governments for allowing the city’s infrastructure to decay. This despite SYRIZA now being in power for over three years and despite a claimed “economic recovery” which should allow for plenty of funds to maintain infrastructure, if what the government is claiming is indeed accurate.
New Democracy hit back through local MP Theodoros Karaoglou, who claimed that the SYRIZA government halted a necessary expansion of Thessaloniki’s water network which would have provided a backup source of water.
What is particularly notable about this outage is the relatively quiet stance maintained by the entirety of the political system and the mainstream Greek media. The issue remained largely under the radar, while there were no calls from any organizations or groups for Thessaloniki residents to mobilize on the streets, as there were recently with apparently far more important issues, such as the disciplinary actions taken against Thessaloniki-based PAOK FC and their owner, Ivan Savvidis, for which PAOK fans wrecked havoc, attempting to enter government buildings and the headquarters of state broadcaster ERT3.
As for Tsipras’ promises, they once again ring hollow. As of January, Thessaloniki’s water utility, as well as that of Athens, have been passed on to a privatization fund. This from the same government which prior to its election in January 2015 pledged to abolish privatizations and led protests to keep water public.
Furthermore, EYATH itself is not fully public. It has been listed on the Athens Stock Exchange since 2001, and one of its shareholders, albeit with a 5.462 percent stake, is Suez Environment, one of the largest private operators of water utilities in the world.
A locally-based grassroots group, the “136 Movement,” has been active in Thessaloniki opposing the further privatization of EYATH and favoring the purchase of a majority share of 51 percent share by the movement. The movement self-organized an unofficial public referendum in 2014 where 98 percent of those who voted opposed privatization. With Bill Gates as one of the supporters of this movement, one wonders what the behind-the-scenes motives may be.
And as for Tsipras, SYRIZA, and the Thessaloniki water supply, could the timing of Tsipras’ speech — and his empty words — be a pre-election sideshow while tossing the ball for the completion of EYATH’s privatization to the likely winner of the next polls, New Democracy? Time will tell.