Access to drinking water in the EU should actually be taken for granted. But this is not the case for Romania. Only 60 per cent of the population have guaranteed access to drinking water supplies. It would cost 30 billion Euro to upgrade the system. And yet efforts to extend access to the population are collapsing under the weight of bureaucracy, reports Denis Grigorescu.
Although Romania has been an EU member for the past six years, nine million of its residents do not have access to the water supply system. "Public water supply? Are you joking?", is the opinion of Lenuta Panaite. "There is a well in our village that everyone draws their water from. To have a water connection in every house sounds like a dream. We have to carry our water in pails. We have no water, no telephone and no streets. It's sad." Lenuta Panaite is one of the 530 residents in the village of Hreasca, one of the poorest in Romania, which lies nearly 240 kilometres northeast from Bucharest. Since she has no income, she has to till the land together with her son in order to survive. When you come here on streets so terrible that they can only be safely traversed by tractor or wagon, you would think that you have arrived in the Middle Ages.
Wolves on the way to school
The people from Hreasca live in isolation from the rest of the world. When there are emergencies, they rely on the few neighbours with mobile telephones. Not even the police can reach it. 15 per cent of the houses have no electricity. Only a scattering of television antennas can be spotted and that's it for now. Hreasca is located in a valley in the Coroiesti region. The next city, Barlad, is 20 kilometres away. Around it is only a dark forest. Over 60 per cent of the residents live on social assistance. This ranges from 20 Lei (4.50 Euro) to a maximum of 300 Lei per month. The rest of the population consists of children, retirees and day labourers. There is one small kindergarten and one primary school for the children. A secondary school is six kilometres away in Mirena, but it only goes up to the eighth grade. "We have to walk a long way every day. Three kilometres of our school route goes through the middle of the forest. In the winter, we have to be on guard because of the wolves", explains 13-year old Ionut. "I only go to school every second day. I need to rest in between."
Structural assistance gets siphoned away
Cristian Lungu is the mayor of Coroieni. "Hreasca is most definitely extremely poor. And one of the biggest problems is naturally the water supply. At least we have the well. There was once a plan to connect Hreasca and also Mireni to the public water supply system. This would have cost 18 billion Lei, up to 80 per cent of which would have been financed by the EU. But the previous government blocked its implementation. More precisely, the Ministry of Development. Quite simply, the project didn't come from the party of our President. That's how things go in Romania. One has good ideas, strives to help others and develop the infrastructure. Even the EU was willing to help. But the bureaucracy in this country obstructs everything." Money from the EU doesn't actually make its way often to Romania, where it is most needed. Through corruption and bureaucracy, 90 per cent of the structural aid gets siphoned away. For this reason, many Romanians still do not have showers, toilets and no access to drinking water.
Costs get in the way
According to data from Eurostat, in no other EU country are so many people without a bath and/or shower as they are in Romania. At 38.5 per cent, it easily beats out Latvia (14.8 per cent) and Bulgaria (14.6 per cent) for this dubious distinction.
2009 was the only year that 55 per cent of the population were connected to the public water supply system. And since then, not much has been accomplished. Here, too, the lead over other countries is considerable: In Lithuania, 76 per cent of the population is supplied with water, and in Estonia it is 80 per cent. Those most affected in Romania live in the rural regions. They practically live on the fringes of civilisation. "Upgrading the water supply system and expanding the sewerage system would cost 30 billion Euro", says the Minister of the Environment Rovana Plumb. "So far, we have not made much progress quickly enough".
Photo credits: Coroiesti city council