Crisis on the Islands: Greece Battles Water Shortages Amid Tourist Boom

Environment | July 10, 2024, Wednesday // 11:01|  views

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Greece's famed islands are grappling with a water crisis just as they brace for a surge in tourist arrivals during peak season. On Naxos, the largest reservoir has dried up completely, now serving only as a refuge for turtles navigating its muddy shallows. This depletion has devastated local agriculture, with seawater intrusion into empty irrigation wells severely damaging the island's prized potato harvest.

Mayor Dimitris Lianos of Naxos described the dire situation: "There has been a severe lack of rainfall throughout the Mediterranean and especially on Naxos; our reservoirs are empty." This scarcity comes at a critical time as millions of tourists flock to Greece annually to enjoy its ancient sites and picturesque beaches. However, the escalating impacts of climate change, including rising temperatures and reduced rainfall, threaten the sustainability of Greece's vital tourism sector.

In response to the crisis, authorities on several islands are implementing stringent measures. On Karpathos, restrictions on pool filling have been enforced, while on Thassos in the north, efforts are underway to procure a desalination unit to purify seawater for drinking. The prolonged absence of rain across most of Greece has exacerbated the water supply challenges, leaving officials, farmers, and scientists deeply concerned about the future.

Naxos, a mountainous island in the Aegean with a population of 20,000, faces acute water shortages exacerbated by its popularity and arid climate. During the summer peak, tens of thousands of tourists inundate its shores daily, placing immense strain on its depleted resources. The island's two reservoirs, currently holding only 220,000 cubic meters of usable water—just a third of last year's capacity—are emblematic of the severity of the crisis.

Mayor Lianos outlined mitigation efforts, including the deployment of three portable desalination plants to treat seawater for residential, hospitality, and recreational use. However, farmers, like Stelios Vatracocoilis, who cultivate Naxos' renowned potatoes, are left grappling with compromised irrigation wells contaminated by seawater intrusion. This contamination occurs when freshwater levels drop, allowing saltwater to infiltrate, severely impacting crop yields.

Vatracocoilis lamented the repercussions: "It's a significant setback because we never expected climate change to directly impact us in this way." The Naxos potato, cherished for its buttery flavor and safeguarded under EU regulations against imitation, faces a drastic reduction in production this year due to saline irrigation water.

As Greece navigates this unprecedented water crisis, exacerbated by climate change-induced challenges, the nation faces a critical test in safeguarding its environmental sustainability and economic vitality, especially in its iconic island destinations.

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Tags: greece, islands, water, lianos, Naxos

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