Conclusions Reverting To A Premodern Water Supply System

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Of all the Emergency Bills that were implemented in 1990, only the increase in water prices had a short-term impact, resulting in a 20 percent cut in water consumption. The immediate results of the other three emergency measures were negligible: only half of the proposed drilling works were eventually carried out, as these were highly contested by local residents; the water transportation project led to great political controversy and to a political scandal before it was finally abandoned; and the Evinos Dam project only became fully operational in 2001, long after the drought period was over. Hence, the only immediate positive outcome from the proposed projects was a 20 percent saving in water consumption and an extra yield of a meagre 100,000-200,000 m3 per day from the drilling works. These quantities fell far short of meeting the originally estimated extra need of almost 1,000,000 m3 per day, suggesting a discursive, rather than a real imminent threat of water scarcity during the drought period. This argument is also supported by the fact that once all four Emergency Acts had been voted in, and the decision for the price rise was implemented, the discourse about water scarcity both in Parliament and in the media stopped abruptly, as if the mere act of adopting Emergency Measures sufficed to chase the ghost of water scarcity away. Indeed, by 19 August 1990—only three months after passing the Emergency Acts, and before any concrete results were achieved—the apocalyptic prophecies about an imminent disaster disappeared. A few months after making the public claim that Athens was about to "die of thirst", the Minister of Environment, Planning and Public Works reassured the Athenians that Athens would not be faced with a water problem that year (Newspaper To Br¡pa, 19 August 1990).

However, the discursive production of nature as a source of crisis, and the hegemonic construction of water as a "naturally scarce" resource, that was performed during the drought period had enduring social, political and environmental implications. The shift in the discourse and practice of water management that was forged during that period gave a decisive blow to the public and social character of the water company and contributed towards turning water in the public consciousness from a public good and a national heritage, into a commodity (Proceedings, IB' Assembly of the Greek Parliament, 11 May 1990:180). The public water company was vilified and accused of mismanagement, as neoliberal demand management policies and "price incentives" were marshalled to extricate Athens from the "environmental crisis" (Kaika 2003a). The value that the 1987 law (1739/87) had originally assigned to water as a "national heritage, a common good and a human right" was replaced by the assertion of its exchange value, shortly before the conservative government embarked on its programme for the "liberalization" of public utilities. Ironically, it would be the socialist government that would perform the final act of the water company's privatization when it came back to power, partly responding to EU pressures for "rationalization" of the public sector (Hellenic Republic 1999).

The focus on a "nature-induced" crisis also helped build consensus over further expansion of the resource base, namely the decision for the construction of a new dam at Evinos river. In this respect, the social, political and technical outcome of the 1989-1991 Athenian drought led to developmental practices which are reminiscent of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, a period when the expansion of the resource base was the automatic solution (funding permitting) for recurrent water shortages. The gradual denationalization of the "means of consumption" that we witness today is also reminiscent of earlier urban systems, that used to comprise small privately owned local enterprises that served specific areas of the city with varying water quality and prices. The nationalization of water, electricity, gas, etc. networks that took place from the middle of the twentieth century onwards, aimed precisely at rationalizing the provision of these services, making them more efficient and distributing resources in more just ways. The recent re-fragmentation of the city's veins, driven by the need to expand further the basis of the market economy, lies almost at the antipode of this modernizing dream for a highly rational, organized, controlled, urban space and a tamed urban nature (Swyngedouw and Kaika 2000), and leads to the resurgence of what Graham and Marvin (1991; 2001) term a "utility patchwork", an entangled network of regulators and private operators.

Thus, despite paying lip service to the "environmental cause", contemporary market-led institutional restructuring, along with growth-oriented development practices (e.g. dam projects) provide less of a solution to environmental problems, and more of a means to sustain the particular socioenvironmental ransformations that form contemporary cities. Within this context of analysis, the water crisis that Athens faced in the early 1990s and the political decisions that were implemented to administer the crisis, cannot be seen only as the direct outcome of a prolonged dry period alone; rather, they were the outcome of the interaction between the available resources, the transformation of nature by human beings and the economics, politics and culture of water use.

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