Water-poor Roma in Ózd could demonstrate this week

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A mass demonstration by the Roma people of Ózd originally planned for yesterday has been cancelled but, should the dispute between Roma and local authorities over the water supply continue, such an action may yet occur.

On Friday, a decision from Ózd Mayor Pál Fürjes had the town reduce water pressure or stop supplying altogether from 88 roadside pumps due to the expense of an annual €50,000 for the supply. Fürjes has been widely quoted in international media as explaining that locals had been frivolously using the water “to wash their cars and fill swimming pools.” In local media, the mayor cited the example of a single pump from which 1 million liters of water was being extracted per year.

BBC eyewitness reportage goes on to claim that “hundreds of people have had to queue at roadside wells in Ózd to collect a trickle of water.”

While Roma make up about one-third of Ózd’s population of 35,600, international media covering the story has essentially accused Fürjes and the local council’s decision as a strike against the minority group. On his part, however, Fürjes defended the move, emphasizing that the council sought to deter “the industrial-level consumption of water” and that the action “is valid for the entire city and not focused on Roma settlements.”.

However, at least one local Roma group may not see things that way. Csaba Harkály of the Roma-Hungarian Friendship Association (RMBT) claimed that the scheduled Monday protest had been called off because the group were “tricked” by promises that water pressure would be restored in some areas. Harkály has pledged to organize such a demonstration perhaps later this week should the cap not be lifted.

In 2010, Switzerland’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs contributed some CHF 7.17 million (over HUF 1.5 billion) to improve water-supply infrastructure in Ózd. The system at that time was labeled as dangerously “antiquated,” with up to 800 households – including some 1,750 Roma citizens – unconnected to the central water supply altogether.

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