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Surrounded by water, several thousand islands in the Greek Archipelago face the paradox of little or no fresh water of their own: wells produce brackish water or they produce salt water. Rainfall averages less than 15 inches a year, and is seasonal. Even coastal towns on the mainland have water shortages, and Athens itself is expected to be among these water-deficient communities within a few years. Rainwater collected on rooftops and in cisterns helps provide domestic water, but many people must drink and cook with brackish water. One solution is to import water, having it towed behind boats in plastic containers holding from 500 to 1,000 tons of water. These containers are called dracones, or sausages. Such fresh water is expensive. In late summer or early fall, shortages become so acute that the government must supply water to the islanders by means of tankers. This "free" water, of course, is very costly to the Greek Government.
Fortunately, in one respect, the population of each tiny island is small, not exceeding a few thousand people. However, this size factor also rules out the installation of expensive distillation equipment. The cost of producing small quantities of fresh water in this manner is exorbitant. Ancient Greeks worshiped Apollo, the sun-god, and recently the Greeks have again looked hopefully to the sun for an answer to their water problems. There is no shortage of sunshine, with an average of about 300 cloudless days a year.
An anonymous donation to an organization called Church World Services resulted in the installation of a solar still in the Symi town square. The new still was dedicated on October 11, 1964, by the Greek Minister of Industry. Grateful townspeople turned out in festive costumes for the dedication, and many wept to see the fountain of fresh water, gift of the sun and man's inventive genius. The solar still at Symi is architecturally attractive, with its rows of plastic bays underlain with black rubber sheeting. It covers an area of about 30,000 square feet, and converts some 5,000 gallons of sea water to fresh every 24 hours. At night, cooling water from a nearby ice factory provides the heat to operate the still. Church World Services began construction of similar stills on two more islands, and the Greek Government appropriated the money for several others. It was estimated that there might soon be as many as seven solar stills furnishing fresh water to the islands.
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