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Environmental issues were the focus of the policy agenda of the Greek government when, in March 2007, it announced an ambitious plan to improve the water-supply situation in some of the most popular islands. Nearly 17 million foreign tourists visited Greece in 2007, up from 16 million the previous year, with most of the tourist traffic benefiting the islands of the Aegean and the Ionian seas. The immediate beneficiaries of the government plan, which includes eight new desalination plants (desalination converts salt water into fresh water), will be the eight islands most sought after by the tourists, including the Aegean islands of Myconos, Santorini, Tinos and Paros.
Greek Environment Minister Giorgos Souflias said that the new desalination plants would help alleviate the water shortage on the islands, especially during the crowded summer months, caused by the twin problems of rising water demand and the dry Greek winter. The rainfall in winter 2006 was below the average level in many areas of Greece, with western regions of Macedonia and the Peloponnese having merely 30 percent of the average rainfall. The Environment Minister Mr. Souflias also emphasized the need to conserve water and avoid wastage. The government initiative on water supplies came in the wake of the EU Summit on the Environment, held in the first week of March 2007.