Today is Blog Action Day. A day when people around the world blog about the same subject with the aim of starting a discussion and encouraging action. This year’s theme is water. A precious resource that so many of us take for granted. When the subject of clean, safe water for all is raised, many of us immediately think of poor countries that suffer from overwhelming poverty. We rarely think of Europe, especially not in 2010. However, I can tell you that right now, as you are reading this, there are thousands of Roma in Greece who have no access to clean, safe water. I personally met many families who live in camps without a single tap. I wrote about it after my visit to the community that used to live in Votanikos, in the heart of Athens.
On the second occasion that I visited the Roma settlement in Votanikos, I was greeted by a large number of sad looking dogs, barking rather half-heartedly but enough to make me stop and wait. One of the men shouted at them and they backed off, slinking into the corners they had appeared from. “Don’t worry, they’re friendly” he called out and waved us towards him with a big smile. I think the look on my face gave away my total lack of experience of this type of living situation. My arrival there was just as overwhelming as the first time.
The community has made a considerable effort to clear the rubbish from the immediate vicinity of their homes but everywhere you look there are more piles.
The high winds in Athens this year causing more misery. While I was there, strong gusts of wind blew thick clouds of dust across the whole camp. It gets in your eyes, in your hair, in your clothes. It hurts. I knew I would be walking away in an hour or so. I would be going home.
Just try to imagine this. This community is living on a rubbish dump in makeshift shacks built from bits and pieces discarded by other people. There is no water. Not even one tap. Any water that they need has to be collected in plastic containers and brought into the camp. For washing. For pots and pans. For laundry. For everything. Everyone and everything is dirty. Because it is impossible for anything to be clean.
There is no toilet. There is no electricity. I believe they have one or two generators which power some lights in the evening. There are an estimated 100 families living there, approximately 500 children. Just try and imagine that. And I would bet that the worst you could come up with, wouldn’t come anywhere near the reality of living there.
The last time I wrote about the camp I stated that it was worse than some of the poorest parts of Soweto, South Africa that I visited 12 years ago. And this is why.
In the township, for all its poverty and problems, there was water.
This was the main issue for all the people I talked to. A friendly group of women and girls talked with me at length about their situation. They told me how ashamed they were that they had not been able to wash the pots from lunchtime yet because they had no water. When I asked them about school they said they would be too embarrassed to send their children with dirty clothes and hair. When I asked them what was the main thing they wanted, they all said water. They told me they didn’t want a handout. All they wanted was a tap. They would pay for the water that came out of it. I have thought about that since then.
Is providing clean, safe water considered a handout? I believe that every human being has the absolute right to have access to water. No exceptions. For those of us who can afford to pay for it, we pay. For those who cannot, it should be provided free. Perhaps there are some people banging their heads on their keyboards right about now due to my “radical leftie” statement. I can guarantee that those people who feel that this idea is wrong-headed have NEVER been to a place like this.
On 30 September 2010, the UN Human Rights Council affirmed for the first time that the human right to water and sanitation is legally binding. So WHEN is this going to be a reality for the people who are suffering right now? How and when are we going to get, even temporary, sanitation facilities in Roma settlements? If we can mobilize pre-fab units for rock concerts and festivals, why can’t we do it for the hundreds of families who have nowhere to live but in these camps? A lack of will, a lack of caring, a lack of compassion, a lack of common decency. I’ve heard dozens of excuses for this abhorrent situation but they are just that. Excuses. Blabbering on about zoning and land rights is just an excuse.
Water and sanitation is a human right
So every human being is entitled to them and it’s up to us to see that they do. Is there ANYONE out there who is able and willing to negotiate with the Greek authorities and the water company to make this happen? Please contact me if you can do something. I have been wanting to motivate an action group to see what can be done. It needs more than one person typing words about it.
It needs many voices speaking up and saying that it is unacceptable for this to be happening here.
- Blog Action Day 2010 (deviousdiva.com)
- Blog Action Day 2010: Safe water to millions (leafygreen.info)
- Blog Action Day: More Than Just Conservation (retrohousewifegoesgreen.com)