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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Russia is so "Energy Rich" that it Still Can't Even Afford Hot Showers in the Summer

Talk about Neo-Soviet! The Baltimore Sun reports that despite alleged oil wealth Russians still don't have enough financial power to heat their water during the summer, so they still have to take cold showers, just like in Soviet times. And this is Moscow! Can you imagine what is going on in the regions?

MOSCOW - Summer in Moscow: the season to crowd into flower-filled parks and public squares to soak up every minute of cherished daylight, under the gaze of statues of Russian poets and generals. The season to reveal the pale skin of arms, legs and — when men unbutton their shirts — bellies long hidden under winter clothes. Also, the season to take ice-cold showers. Not, mind you, by choice.

Moscow is about two-thirds of the way through its hot water shutoff, an annual annoyance that leaves millions of Russians without the modern convenience of a hot shower for weeks at a time.

Every summer, local authorities turn off the hot water in residential neighborhoods on a rolling basis to perform maintenance on the 5,600 miles of pipes that deliver it to households connected to the centralized system that also provides heat in winter. Workers run tests, install replacement parts and, in recent years, lay new pipes that resist rust and are predicted to last up to 30 years.

Coping with the shut-off demands a mix of resourcefulness and patience. A shower no longer requires just shampoo and soap. Suddenly, it's an affair demanding teapots, electric kettles, pots and pans, small bowls and, usually, a basin known as a tazik.

Boiling water in the kitchen and toting it to the bath is the most common approach. But there are others. The newspaper Rech suggested rigging a system where hot water from a washing machine is diverted through a hose into the tub.

Maxim Yenkov, 25, who works at a Moscow computer store, was without hot water for nearly a month. To shower in his apartment, he needed to boil two pots of water.

"It's quite a difficult process, all the planning, of which friends to go to at which time — who is at home, who has hot water," Yenkov said.

This year, the municipal agency responsible for the majority of the pipes, Moscow United Energy Co., plans to replace 237 of the 3,100 miles of piping scheduled for upgrade.

With what he called "sufficient financing" — about $2.4 billion — Deputy Chief Engineer Ivan Averin said the work could be finished in six years.

At the current pace, though, it will take nearly 120 — which means a lot more cold summer showers.

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