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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 November, 2003, 17:43 GMT
Russian water thieves strike drought city
Water reservoir
Vladivostok's reservoir is drying up

Police have been deployed to combat ingenious methods of water theft in the Russian far eastern port of Vladivostok, as the authorities struggle to cope with severe water shortages.

The city cut off centralised hot water supplies to residential areas earlier this week in an effort to make the drought-stricken region's dwindling reserves last until the next rainy season.

But many residents have struck back by tapping into their radiators and siphoning hot water from the closed-circuit central heating system, which has a separate water supply.

Water taps in Vladivostok's businesses have been dry since an emergency situation was declared in September, and residential areas are receiving cold running water for just two or three hours every other day.

We will be merciless to those who tap into the radiators. This is simply theft!
Yuriy Molochnyy, deputy mayor

Only hospitals, schools and kindergartens have been spared the harsh austerity measures, Russia's RTV television said.

The local central heating company, whose huge Soviet-style plants cater for the vast majority of homes in the city, now consumes 80% of Vladivostok's daily water ration.

Special squads comprising local administration officials, utility company staff and the police have now been deployed, after a fifth of the water was stolen from the supposedly sealed central heating system in October.

"We will be merciless to those who tap into the radiators," says Yuriy Molochnyy, the deputy mayor. "This is simply theft!"

Water diviner
Water diviners are doing brisk business

Businesses and households are drilling private water wells all over the city, and rod-wielding water diviners are reported to be doing a brisk business.

People across the former Soviet Union, apart from the well-off capitals such as Moscow or Kiev, have often had to rely on cunning strategies to compensate for the shortfalls of the decrepit utility services.

Siphoning water from the heating circuit is an old trick, though it has its drawbacks.

Water in the radiators has a yellowish tinge and special additives to prevent corrosion and the build-up of deposits in the pipes.

In another hazard to supplies, the failure of consumers to pay their bills often leaves utilities unable to pay their own suppliers, resulting in dry taps, cold radiators and electricity blackouts.

Water well
Water wells are being drilled all over the city

But in Vladivostok, where the authorities have been exhorting public-spirited citizens to respect the conservation measures, the situation is different.

Never mind the unpaid bills, there simply isn't enough water to go round after an exceptionally dry summer, the authorities say.

But water shortages are a recurring problem for Vladivostok, which has also had to cope with fuel and electricity crises in the recent past.

Analysts say that had the regional and central authorities resolved their squabble over who should pay for the long-mooted upgrade of the city's water supply, this year's drought would not have become such a catastrophe.

In the meantime, Vladivostok has to rely on a combination of strict policing and public respect for conservation measures to prevent it from drying up.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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04 Nov 03  |  Country profiles

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