The vicious cycle of water supply

Alex writes*

Athens, Greece’s capital and largest city, has a population of 3,2 million. The city attracts around 6 million tourists each year, many seeking sunny weather. But high temperatures also represent a threat — to the city’s water supply.

Droughts, wildfires (Η Καθημερινη 2023) and heatwaves (euronews.2022) are not surprising news anymore, so what happens if Athens lacks the  water to extinguish the fires, irrigate crops, or serve the population?

These goals are already difficult to achieve, but current water management makes water scarcity worse.

Athens’s water quality is among the best in Europe (scoring 10 in the EU’s Urban Water Atlas), but its management of supply and environmental flows in the Mornos and Evinos rivers is lacking, in what Giorgos Kallis calls a “vicious cycle of water resources.

Athenians have discussed water scarcity and management since the nineteenth century. One choice that altered Greece’s water infrastructure was the construction of a dam on the Mornos River, which not only failed to meet skyrocketing demand but pushed demand even further. That was because the Athens Water Supply and Sewerage Company (EYDAP) kept prices low to encourage consumption. Citizens bought dishwashers, took longer showers, and used water in many novel ways.

The 2004 Olympic Games boosted the city’s development and its water network, further increasing demand. According to the EEA, Athens is growing at an excessive rate of 6% per year. Supply, on the other hand, is falling. Precipitation and river flow are projected to decrease by 7-12% (against mean flow levels) over the 30-year period to 2040. Supply may not be sufficient, and “supply-oriented” solutions are expensive, unsustainable, and inadequate if demand is not managed.

Bottom Line: It is important understand the root causes of water scarcity in Athens and to break this vicious cycle of water supply by concentrating on more sustainable and equitable water management practices.

* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

2 thoughts on “The vicious cycle of water supply”

  1. Dear Alex,
    Your blogpost provided a good overview of the situation regarding water scarcity in Athens. I thought it was interesting, how there are twice the amount of tourists which visit each year, in comparison to residents. Further I found it quite worrying to read how much the flow rates are decreasing. I wonder what possible solutions could be to solve this issue? You mention that supply oriented methods are complicated, but potentially methods could be implemented which try to lower the demand.

  2. Hi Alex – I really enjoyed your blogpost and find this idea of the vicious cycle of water very interesting. When you talk about the Athens Water Supply and Sewerage Company (EYDAP) keeping prices low to encourage consumption, do you know if they came back on their decision afterwards? if so, when and did people stop consuming more after that? Moreover, it is quite scary to see that demand is increasing while supply is crumbling… Maybe you could explore in more detail the potential solutions and consequences of such a thing (ex: possible to use alternative water sources? or a more or less price increase?). Also, as the country is part of the EU and it gets funds from the institutions, do you know if some of it is used to improve the water system or if they could ask for help?

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