Gela_How can we better manage the water shortage in urban area of Gela?

The town will never be the same. After the Normans, Moors and Spaniards the water cartel took it all over. Today the city looks like Disneyland. The site of the former oil refinery, now a Water Casino, is a moument to Gela's most important state - the state of water, or rather its absence. Casino is the ultimate solution to the water rationing in Gela, an arena of passionate gambling where water is the only currency. While the bambini play cardboard pirates, mamma and papà drop the house payments on the wet poker slots. In the old days, dealers knew your name, what you drank, what you played. Today, it's like checking into an airport.


Water trade and shipment of water across the globe is not a new concept but since nearly two decades international transport companies try to take advange of this blue gold at a big scale. There are many obstacles to this trade in the juriction field or due to the political conflicts or economic competition with local desalination plants as an alternative solution to the problem of water shortages (see the map below). Beyond these business aspects, one should also consider the environmental viability of this trade. The CO2 emission of water transportation between different countries and more often on a continental scale has a much more catastrophic ecological impact than small-scale local solutions, such as low-tech desalination systems.


Now, notice how in the count room nobody ever seems to see anything. Now, look at these guys. Most of Gela's natural wealth is owned and developed by people who do not live there. They look busy, right? They're countin' money. Liter for liter. Who wants to bother them? I mean, God forbid they should make a mistake and forget to steal.


Gela (about 77,000 inhabitants) is an ancient Mediterranean town with long hot dry summers and mild winters, the host of a major industrial area of Sicily. The theme of new technologies and renewable energies of the island was emerging in recent years, yet the management of a public good such as water seems to be far behind the others in Sicily. Simplistic short-term solutions to the existing water crisis, such as shipment of water from different parts of Italy constantly re-appear in this water-related discourse.

Over the years, Gela petroleum refinery, the largest in Europe became one of the top greenhouse gas emitters, not only by burning petcoke. Gela is also known for its extensive farming because of favorable conditions, but the limits for some pesticides exceed by far the maximum. Due to this, the area was recognized as being at risk of environmental crisis already 20 years ago. The pollutants such as sulphates, nitrates and metals like chromium, antimony, nickel and copper have became ubiquitous in the environment. They are found in underground water, tap water, wastewater, soil, air and food. Water is also contaminated by wastewater from desalting, distillation, cracking, and reforming operations. Gradually, the pollution reached the coastal marine area adjacent to the bodies of groundwater.

Thus the population is consequently at risk by eating contaminated fish or vegetables and fruits grown in this area. And the results confirm that contamination is still ongoing.

In Gela, everybody's gotta watch everybody else. The real battle takes place below the ground level, where ground meets the water - but since the players are looking to beat the casino, the dealers are watching the players. The box men are watching the dealers. The floor men are watching the box men. The pit bosses are watching the floor men. The shift bosses are watching the pit bosses. The casino manager is watching the shift bosses. I'm watching the casino manager. And the eye-in-the-sky is watching us all.


It was 1942 when EAS was beginning to take shape. The Sicilian Waterworks Corporation, founded by Victor Emmanuel III, was intended to build new aqueducts, complete those under construction and maintain existing ones. That’s when the Sicilian struggle for water began. In 1954, the police had to interfere during a demonstration where more than 2,500 people were protesting in front of the town Mussomeli because of constant lack of water.

The 70s finally brought some light into the corrupt political administration and mafia water management. The great "thirst for Palermo" of 1977-78 opened up an investigation of water supply. In 2000, the joint venture Siciliacque SpA was created. They manage dams and water purification systems that transfer the collected and drinkable water to big tanks in many towns with a water supply network. Upon reaching these towns the potable water is then managed by local water supply companies. The remaining 25% have been taken over by EAS. Today, the 75% of the company is owned by leading industrial companies. Despite of a great modernization a severe water crisis was affecting the island in 2002. Because there is drought“, was the explanation to the Region.



The thirst of Sicily has no end. Water mostly ends in the hands of mafia which continues to abuse reservoirs and aqueducts. Even today, more than 40% of the water entering the water circuit is not successfully delivered.


Water delineates Gela's social, political and economic limits. Historically relying on groundwater sources, Gela's arid but fertile soil now dries up. With extensive use of illegal water sources, ferquent droughts and non-effcicient use of local natural wealth, the city's very specific water-related condition becomes a global symptom. With unstable groundwater resources, is the only solution to this issue erection of an invasive high-tech desalination plant? Shipping water from distant places? Or perhaps a quick roulette session at the Water Casino?


In the Water Casino, the cardinal rule is to keep them playing and to keep them coming back. The longer they play, the more they lose, and in the end, we get it all.





Case con acqua potabile nei quartieri di Gela. Il sindaco presenta il progetto a Caltaqua, published October 21, 2015:


Nello Lombardo: Acqua a volontà, ma sarà vero?, published July 16, 2007:


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