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Roma communities had their access to water shut down during heatwave in Gulács and in Nyíregyháza, Hungary


The Roma neighborhood of Gulács, a small village of 800 people in North-East Hungary,  saw the closure of the public water well on 1 August 2017 during a summer heatwave. [1] The Tisza Regional Waterworks suddenly removed the well. The company stated officially that they suspected a burst pipe of “one of the wells that are officially out of order” and removed it. [2] The closure of the well occurred despite public outcry after similar cases occurred in other locations, in particular in Ózd.

After the closure of the well, local residents published a post on social media which was shared more than 1000 times urging the mayor of Gulács to restore the well. Researchers and other people standing up against anti-gypsyism*, also addressed letters to the municipality. [2]

Roma rights activist Jenő Setét was quoted in the press saying: “You don’t have to be a scientific researcher or a water expert to see that turning off public wells in any community or settlement during a heatwave and denying the people living there of drinking water anywhere in the world is an inhuman act.  And this is not the first occasion: four years ago the same thing took place in Ózd.  I suspect, by the way, that as parliamentary elections near, crazier and crazier political proposals will be made and gypsies will be used more and more as a means in the political campaign.” [2]

In the Roma area of Gulács, most residents have no tap water in their homes and therefore rely on the public well. The arm of the well had already been removed many years before, so that the Roma communities had to fix it and had to use it illegally ever since, however without any retaliation from authorities. [2] Other than the well closed in August 2017, another well is operational at a distance of 300 meters, which is more than the maximum 150 meters according to the law.[3]

The village of Gulács is located in Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg county, in the Northern Great Plain region of Eastern Hungary close to the Ukrainian border. Around 21% of its 800 citizens are of Roma origin as of 1998. [4]

In a similar manner, the around 1500 inhabitants of Huszártelep, who are mostly Roma, have been shut off from water supply in the summer heatwave.

The neighborhood is located in Nyíregyháza, a city in North-Eastern Hungary and the county capital of Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg with a population of 119,000 (out of which around 2200 are estimated to be Roma). Huszártelep is one of the most marginalised and impoverished parts of the city located to the South of the centre. [5]

Despite the public outcry following the similar cases in Ózd and Gulács, the service provider, the Nyírségvíz Zrt. of  Nyíregyháza decided on 28 June 2019 during a heatwave to close down the water supply in the houses of 48 families due to debt accumulated for the service. Some households are now more than 150 meters away from the closest public well, a fact disputed by the service provider. [6]

The affected families were told the service provider would restrict their water supply, but were not informed that supply would be shut down completely. One complainant stated on the site of the Roma Press Center

that besides many children also a person with final stage cancer was affected by the closure of water supply. [6]

The Communications Officer of Nyírségvíz Zrt. argued that the affected families had been approached due to the debts for not having paid their water bills over a long period of time. He argued that the closure of the water supply was lawful. According to the service provider the accumulated debts were more than 13 million Forint plus interest (equivalent of 43,000USD). [6]

After complaints were made and newspaper contacted the services provider, the water supply was reopened in order to guarantee a subsistence minimum, as Nyírségvíz Zrt. argued. [6]

These case is part of a wider pattern and illustrates the lack of political will to solve distributional injustice and ensure access to basic necessities for Roma in Hungary.

The cases illustrate a common problem: Roma people in Hungary are regularly subjected to water closures by the service providers. Blaming Roma for wasting water and/or not paying bills is often used to justify the measure, even during heatwaves.

Public officials argue to have acted based on the law and do not consider the humanitarian need for water supply. When Roma activists raise their voice against  communities being cut off from water supplies, responses can be hostile.

*anti-gypsyism: Antigypsyism is the specific racism towards Roma, Sinti, Travellers and others who are stigmatized as ‘gypsies’ in the public imagination. Although the term is finding increasing institutional recognition, there is as yet no common understanding of its nature and implications. Antigypsyism is often used in a narrow sense to indicate anti-Roma attitudes or the expression of negative stereotypes in the public sphere or hate speech. However, antigypsyism gives rise to a much wider spectrum of discriminatory expressions and practices, including many implicit or hidden manifestations. Antigypsyism is not only about what is being said, but also about what is being done and what is not being done.[7]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Roma communities had their access to water shut down during heatwave in Gulács and in Nyíregyháza, Hungary
State or province:Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg
Location of conflict:Gulács and Nyíregyháza
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Specific commodities:Water

Project Details and Actors

Project details

This situation is not due to any developmental projects or investments but due to the lack of minimum public services, here the access to water. The water service provider in Hungary is entitled by law to close water access to people when the legal requirements are met, such as unpaid bills with the limitation that legal residents shall have access to water within 150 meter radius to their household. Whether the latter requirement was duly addressed is questioned by the parties in both cases.

Type of populationRural
Affected Population:1,500-2,000 (48 households)
Start of the conflict:01/08/2017
Company names or state enterprises:Tisza Regional Waterworks (TRV Zrt.) from Hungary - Closures of public wells
Nyírség Waterworks (Nyírségvíz Zrt.) from Hungary - Water closure
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:In the case of Huszártelep, Nyíregyháza: Hátrányos Helyzetű Családok Országos Egyesülete [Vulnerable Families National Organisation]

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Neighbours/citizens/communities
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Health ImpactsPotential: Malnutrition, Other Health impacts, Infectious diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Violations of human rights, Displacement, Specific impacts on women


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Migration/displacement
Proposal and development of alternatives:No alternative has been proposed for the discriminatory practices of water enclosure towards the Roma.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The Roma community still does not have access to clean, potable, and running water. Also, Roma people continue to move out the settlement/town which can be interpreted as indirect racially motivated displacement of the Roma people.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[3] The right to water and sanitation according to the General Comment No. 4 of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provided as follows: “The water supply for each person must be sufficient and continuous for personal and domestic uses. These uses ordinarily include drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes, food preparation, personal and household hygiene. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 50 and 100 litres of water per person per day are needed to ensure that most basic needs are met and few health concerns arise.” Hungary only ensures 20 liters per day for some groups of people. Pursuant to Article 58 of the Act CCIX of 2011 on Public Water Utilities (Public Water Utilities Act) the service provider shall limit or cut off the users insofar as the supply of drinking water meets the needs of subsistence and public health. The public health requirements of drinking water supply is ensured if the drinking water supply is at least 20 liter per person and day and the utility is within a distance of 150 meters or less from the place of residence. In order to supply drinking water that meets the needs of subsistence and public health, the water utilities provider shall establish a public water tap at the expense of the local government. The costs of operating the public water tap are paid by the local government to the water utility service provider. The Public Water Utilities Act only provides to those the amount of 20 litres per person and day who are cut off by the service. Those who have never been part of the service area as it is the case with Roma in segregated neighbourhoods are not covered by the provision.

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[4] Kertesi-Kézdi: A cigány népesség Magyarországon [The Roma population of Hungary], 1998

[5] Nyíregyháza Municipality Development Plan for Huszártelep [Huszártelep területi és társadalmi reintegrációja], 2011

Kertesi-Kézdi: A cigány népesség Magyarországon [The Roma population of Hungary], 1998

[1] Lázadás Gulácson - Elzárták a romák egyetlen közkútját” [1] [“Rebellion on Gulacs – The Roma’s only public well was disconnected”-The author translated from Hungarian], Népszava online newspaper Retrieved: 13.06-2019

[6] A kánikulában zárták el a vizet 48 nyíregyházi családnál ["48 families water service were shut down in Nyíregyháza in the middle of the heat wave"] Szabolcsihír online newspaper, 2019.06.28 Retrieved: 07/30/2019

[7] What is antigypsyism, ERGO Network, 2019

What is antigypsyism, ERGO Network, 2019

Meta information

Contributor:Zsuzsanna Kovacs, [email protected]
Last update29/10/2019
Conflict ID:4374



Roma neighboorhod in Nyiregyhaza

Water access only with public wells