Water – A precious resource in Southern Italy

4 01 2009

What do people do when water is scarce? They spend, spend, spend…

and meet lots of friendly plumbers.

Blue water tanks - an essential part of your home

Blue water tanks - an essential part of your Italian home

Everyone talks about how precious water is but, unless you’ve had to do without it, you don’t appreciate its significance. There’s nothing worse than having the taps run dry and not knowing when you will be able to flush the toilet, take a shower, wash the dishes, or even make a cup of tea again.

What I did over my Christmas holidays, or my brief visit to Gela

The province of Caltanissetta is not known for its plentiful choice of radio stations. On my infrequent trips to the area, most of my driving time has been spent listening to the broadcast recital of the rosary on the entertainment challenged frequencies of Radio Maria. I was pleased therefore to find more upbeat sounds as we passed through the petrochemical centre of Gela. Alas, taking advantage of the lack of competition, almost the entire output of the local radio station was devoted to annoying commercials for the standbys of Italian Christmas life: high fashion clothes and food. However, there was one business model that stood out from the more predictable concerns: private water suppliers. It seems as though there is a serious water crisis in Gela. A local news site is reporting that the erogation of water supplies has been blocked. In that case, as the advertising pointed out, the only possibility to get water is to pay for a tanker truck to come to your house and fill up the blue tank on your roof.

Dry, dry, dry

I know what they’re going through in Gela. During the first few years I lived in Palermo, there was a serious water shortage. The water would come at irregular intervals, at best providing the essential liquid two or three times a week. In such cases, you need to take care to preserve every drop of water when it does come. This meant that I ended up spending big money in the apartment I was renting for a water tank (placed over my hallway), a water pump at ground level (because the water pressure was so low it didn’t make it up to the 6th floor when it did come), and an autoclave to pump the water from my tank to the taps in the kitchen and bathroom. This was not a cost efficient solution. One pump or another constantly broke down – so that either the apartment was flooded with water or I missed the bi-weekly supply. Nonetheless, things have gotten better in recent years and we listened to the news from Gela with a certain amount of nostalgia.

Then we ran out of water yesterday afternoon.

A dry Saturday

It was our fault. We had become complacent. It was almost like living in Canada. As long we ran the pump a couple of times a week, we had all the water we wanted. However, we forgot to fill up the tank after we got back from our trip to Ragusa.

First the water started to spurt as we did the dishes, then the autoclave started to make knocking sounds, then the taps went dry. I ran to start up the pump to get more water – but, at the moment, our village does not supply water on Saturdays. We had to wait until Sunday morning.

Flushing your toilets with bottled mineral water is not a satisfactory solution.

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