Bulgarians protest severe water shortage in industrial city

Residents of a Bulgarian city in the midst of a severe months-long water shortage have gathered in front of the government headquarters Saturday to demand urgent measures to address what they described as a looming humanitarian crisis

SOFIA, Bulgaria -- Residents of a Bulgarian city experiencing a severe months-long water shortage gathered in front of the government headquarters Saturday demanding urgent measures to address what they described as a looming humanitarian crisis.

Protesters voiced suspicions that bribery and incompetence were behind the water shortage in the industrial city of Pernik. They warned that the reservoir at Studena Dam, the city's only water source, would be empty in two weeks.

The water crisis in Pernik, located 30 kilometers (20 miles) west of Sofia, Bulgaria's capital, peaked in November when local authorities imposed water rationing due to the lack of supplies from the nearby dam.

Earlier this month, Bulgaria's environment minister resigned after he was charged with deliberate mismanagement of water supplies for the city. He could face up to eight years in jail if found guilty of allowing water to go to industrial facilities despite knowing it would jeopardize drinking water supplies for nearly 100,000 people.

Pernik residents who are struggling to get their basic water needs have been protesting the shortages for weeks.

Their anger has been fueled by the city mayor’s decision to cancel a big international dance festival for the first time in six decades because of the water crisis. The festival bring thousands of visitors to Pernik every year and is a major source of revenue for many residents.

The political opposition in Bulgaria's parliament earlier this week filed a motion accusing the government of being responsible for the water crisis. The vote will be held on Wednesday, but will likely fail due to the government’s slim majority in parliament.