Hungarian Roma queue for water in heatwave after pumps shut down

Fri Aug 9, 2013 8:10am EDT
 
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By Marton Dunai

OZD, Hungary (Reuters) - Thousands of Roma have been queueing in a Hungarian town for water during a record heatwave after their mayor shut down many of the public pumps on which the impoverished community depends.

With temperatures peaking at 40C (104 Fahrenheit) for several days, the Hungarian government intervened on Wednesday, ordering Mayor Pal Furjes to restore full water supplies to slums in the northeastern town of Ozd where the Roma live.

Local Roma expressed sarcastic disgust about the mayor's decision, which they said had been made without any warning. "I can fill this bucket up with my own spit before this trickle does," said Gyorgy Kiss as he stood at a pump that remained open but had little water pressure.

"We thank the mayor very much. Next time he should shut down our air supply, too," said Kiss, a father of five sons.

Roma suffer discrimination and persecution across much of Europe. On Tuesday, a Hungarian court jailed four neo-Nazis for killing Roma families in a spree of racist violence in 2008 and 2009 that shocked the country and led to accusations that police had failed to protect the minority.

Roma often live in miserable conditions without power or mains water. This forces them to trek to public pumps with buckets to collect water for washing and cooking.

However, Ozd's municipal government closed more than half the town's pumps and restricted pressure to others, accusing local people of abusing the free supply by spraying water around. This had left the town with a 12 million forint ($53,400) annual bill it cannot afford, it said.

Interior Minister Sandor Printer told Furjes on Wednesday to reopen all the pumps. "(The government) called upon Ozd's mayor to suspend the municipal decision and restore the original state of affairs due to the extreme temperature," he said in a statement.   Continued...

 
A Roma man cools himself at the impoverished outskirts of Ozd, northeastern Hungary, 155 km (96 miles) from Budapest August 7, 2013. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh