SINCE August 1, inhabitants of Lunik IX have turned their water taps on in vain after city authorities shut off water supplies for 400 flats of the densely-populated Košice suburb, which is mainly home to Roma. A water tank is provided each morning from 7:30 to 8:30 to supply drinking water to the local community. The main supply was turned off, according to the municipality, because of extensive damage to water pipes and what they called “suspicious leaks of water” from individual apartments. Lunik IX has long made headlines due to its poor living conditions and residents’ difficulties paying their utility bills.
The water supply was limited even before it was shut off due to the mounting debts of the suburb, whose inhabitants owe a cumulative sum of €2 million for water. Moreover, the average water consumption per Lunik IX habitant is the highest in the whole city, Košice city spokesperson Martina Viktorínová told The Slovak Spectator, adding that the cuts only changed the method of distribution of water, but not the amount or quality.
The Roma Parliament, an NGO, has interpreted the move by the municipality as a general threat and its speaker, Ladislav Fízik, has filed a criminal complaint.
“Whatever the [municipality’s] reasons are for cutting off the water supply… no one has the right to threaten the life and health of Slovak citizens,” Fízik told The Slovak Spectator.
The Roma Parliament also called in its statement for Prime Minister Robert Fico to dismiss the government proxy for Roma communities, Miroslav Pollák, as he “absolutely does not show any interest in solving Lunik IX’s problems.”
It also criticises the government proxy for national minorities, László Nagy, Košice Mayor Richard Raši and even Health Minister Zuzana Zvolenská, as the SITA newswire reported.
Plan to dig new water wells
The city-run Košice Housing Company (BPMK), which manages around 8,100 flats throughout the city, ordered water tanks costing €145.57 each to be made available every day including weekends until the water is turned back on. The water will remain shut off until BPMK employees assess the cost of the damage to the water pipes, yet there are no funds to pay for the repairs, according to Zuzana Pancisynová, another spokesperson for the city, as quoted by the Sme daily.
However, the city appears reluctant to repair the damaged water pipes and is trying to find another solution. It hired a hydrologist who found seven water sources suitable for digging wells, and is awaiting the reports of professionals hired to further evaluate the sources, said Viktorínová, as quoted by Sme.
“The city cannot invest [money] in repairing damaged water pipes because that [kind of] investment is more or less pointless in Lunik IX,” said Viktorínová, as quoted by Sme, adding that “repair would be very expensive and neither the city nor the neighbourhood has the funds for it”.
Viktorínová said that repairs to the water pipes should cost from €250,000 to €300,000, according to a BPMK estimate. However, the planned wells will not be an alternative to drinking water supplies, but rather a secondary water supply to cover the needs of Lunik IX habitants, Viktorínová told The Slovak Spectator.
Solutions for Lunik IX
Fízik does not agree with the plan to create new wells, arguing that Lunik IX is built for a different kind of water distribution and as a solution suggests the installation of sensors that will pump only the amount of water pre-ordered by residents so that no one can claim to be without water. He described Pollák, the government proxy, as a “joker”, and told The Slovak Spectator that his approach shows clearly that he knows little about Roma life.
“The problem with Lunik IX is that the current odd legislation [sees Lunik IX ] as a suburb of the city of Košice, meaning that the Lunik IX municipality bears no direct responsibility for its property in Lunik IX territory,” Fízik said.
Meanwhile, Pollák planned to meet with Košice authorities on August 9 to suggest the creation of a committee to find systematic solutions for this troubled part of the city, and mentioned the idea of exemplary flats as an example. Only residents who regularly pay their bills would occupy such flats, which would thereby create a positive trend for the district, explained Pollák in his official statement, the Roma Newswire (RPA) reported.
Pollák admitted that he had not visited the suburb in roughly half a year and that he therefore did not have accurate information about the situation there until after his August 9 meeting with the deputy mayor of Košice, Renáta Lenártová. He said he appreciated the city’s steps to improve conditions in Lunik IX, the TASR newswire reported.
Pollák added that he does not see any reason to respond to Fízik’s claims since he knows him very well and “even though the Roma Parliament sounds [important], it is just a civil association”, adding that he does not know if the parliament has any members other than Fízik.
For more than a year two groups have been operating in Košice and, besides dealing with daily problems, have prompted a series of initiatives that have already brought partial results, Viktorínová told The Slovak Spectator, in response to criticism of the city’s actions.
For instance, local authorities have installed individual energy meters, which have stopped rising debts for electricity, and have changed the categorisation of flats, thereby motivating families who have paid rent for a long period of time to continue doing so in the future and offering them a higher standard of living.