Drought-hit Cyprus eyes water imports

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Drought-stricken Cyprus may import water from Greece to cover a shortage that has forced the government to ration supplies to farmers, its agriculture minister said on Wednesday.

A dry reservoir bed is seen at Kouris dam in Limassol district, Cyprus, November 9, 2007. Drought-stricken Cyprus may import water to beat a crippling shortage that is threatening to tap the island's reservoir reserves dry, its agriculture minister said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Andreas Manolis

The Mediterranean island has seen little rainfall this winter, marking the fourth consecutive year of drought. Reservoirs are less than 10 percent full.

The decision to bring water in sea tankers from the Greek island of Crete would depend on the weather over the next two months, but the outlook for rain was not promising, Agriculture Minister Photis Photiou said.

“It’s January 9. It’s supposed to be winter, and it feels like summer,” he told Reuters.

“It is not an easy job (to import water). We looked at this option seven or eight years ago and the costs at the time were very high. Some problems in that respect have now been solved.”

Water shortages have triggered rationing for farmers, and cuts could also be considered to households if the situation does not improve by April, he said.

Cyprus is no stranger to drought, but the present shortage has been acute enough to send devout Greek Cypriots into Churches praying for rain. The Orthodox Church on Wednesday called for an all-night vigil on January 18.

“We will all be given the chance to send prayers to our Heavenly Father to end the drought on our island,” Archbishop Chrysostomos said in a circular. “We have no doubt God will hear our prayers and send us the rain we so badly need.”

Authorities also called prayers in December, when it barely rained.

Official accounts suggest that rainfall in Cyprus has fallen by about 20 percent over the past 35 years, a decline officials attribute to climate change.

Cyprus has two desalination plants running at full capacity, and a third is due to come on stream in June. Reservoirs were 9.2 percent full as of January 8, holding an estimated 25.3 million cubic meters of water.

Writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Elizabeth Piper