Reuters: Greece’s dark age: how austerity turned off the lights

7 April 2017
844 Views

Reuters news agency writes of the devastating impact harsh austerity measures have had on the lives of everyday Greeks, as four in ten citizens have had their electricity cut off due to their inability to cover their bills. In an article by Karolina Tagaris and Angeliki Koutantou entitled “Greece’s dark age: how austerity turned off the lights”, the bleak reality of 7 years of the implementation of harsh austerity measures is presented.

Kostas Argyros’s unpaid electricity bills are piling up, among a mountain of debt owed to Greece’s biggest power utility. His family owe 850 euros to the Public Power Corporation (DEHr.AT) (PPC), a tiny fraction of the state-controlled firm’s 2.6 billion euros ($2.8 billion) in unpaid bills.

Argyros picks up only occasional work as an odd-job man. “When you only work once a week, what will you pay first?”said the 35-year-old, who lives in a tiny apartment in an Athens suburb with his unemployed wife and four small children. (Graphic: Greek energy crisis tmsnrt.rs/2o2KRRD)

The Argyros family are emblematic of deepening poverty in Greece following seven years of austerity demanded by the country’s international creditors. They burn wood to heat their home in winter, food is cooked on a small gas stove, and hot water is scarce.
The only evening light is the blue glare of a TV screen, for fear of racking up more debt. Five-watt lightbulbs provide a dim glow and Argyros worries about the effect on their eyesight. More than 40 percent of Greeks are behind on their utility bills, higher than anywhere else in Europe.

People in poor neighborhoods are also increasingly turning to energy fraud, meaning that the problem for PPC is much higher than the mountain of unpaid bills suggests.

Power theft is costing PPC around 500-600 million euros a year in lost income, an industry official said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge the numbers.

PPC declined to comment on the figure. Public disclosures by the Hellenic Electricity Distribution Network Operator HEDNO, which checks meters, show that verified cases of theft climbed to 10,600 last year, up from 8,880 in 2013 and 4,470 in 2012.

Authorities believe theft is far higher than the cases verified by HEDNO, another official said, declining to be named.
Households in the country are equipped with analog meters, which are easy to hack. One of the most common tricks is using magnets, which slow down the rotating coils to show less consumption than the real amount, a HEDNO official said.

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