Islanders out in the cold

Inhabitants of small and remote islands find themselves scrambling to meet basic needs as winter exacerbates the problems of their semi-deserted state. Poor transport communications with mainland Greece is still the source of most problems and hinder efforts to improve the daily existence and quality of life of the few permanent inhabitants. Clinics exist on paper only, medical personnel are inadequate to meet needs, and even the use of heliports, on some islands, to transport patients has ceased after the fatal accident of the first-aid helicopter on Anafi last June. Many islands do not even have a pharmacy. Infrastructure works are delayed by the lack of specialized personnel to carry out building studies. Urgent needs On Symi, with a population of 2,800, an emergency raises pulse beats as the health center – staffed by a pathologist, rural doctor and GP – cannot meet the island’s needs. «We go to Rhodes at the drop of a hat,» said Mayor Eleftherios Papakaloudas. «We don’t use the heliport much. Normally, we take the ship.» Complaints about the sea connection are hardly in short supply – in winter, only one of four ships docks at Symi on the way. The lack of a proper sewage network is yet another problem for the island because, according to the mayor, there are no organized surveying services to carry out the necessary studies. Symi also suffers from a water shortage and ships in water from neighboring Rhodes. Even the municipality’s funds are limited: «We have little income. With 480 million drachmas (1.408 million euros), what do you do first?» the mayor wondered. Mayor Benetos Spyrou described transport as the biggest problem on the Dodecanese island of Leipsoi. «When this is solved, through a combination of means, then inhabitants will have access to the center, freeing up forces in the Aegean that no one can foresee. We’ll persist and continue to insist,» he said. A related problem was health. «Leipsoi has a well-organized rural surgery. Unfortunately, the polyclinics about which there has been so much noise, exist on paper only. We don’t have basic medical equipment, nor a connection through tele-medicine with large medical institutes in the country. As for the heliports, those with lights are perfectly capable of meeting transport needs, regardless of attempts by some to blame them for accidents.» «When ships are confined to port, then we pray no one falls ill,» said the president of the Kimolos community, Angeletos Kanas, summing up the insecurity of the inhabitants of this small Cycladic island. The Piraeus connection is patchy, since ships that ply the western Cyclades give the island a miss. There is no pharmacy, so the islanders stock up, either in Piraeus or in the surrounding islands, while between the end of the last doctor’s tour of duty and before the next one arrives – a period of about a month – Kimolos has no doctor at all. Cut off On Astypalaia, being cut off by sea is partly compensated for by the airport, which has four flights a week with a ticket to Athens that is subsidized by the State. «Today, we find ourselves in a satisfactory state of affairs,» said the president of the municipal council of Astypalaia, Nikitas Kontaratos. But he added, «More steps, of course, need to be taken; the road network needs improving, the Venetian castle needs buttressing (the Culture Ministry has sent in a contractor for one part), a landfill site needs to found (for the moment, garbage is burned), and the old water supply and sewage systems need replacing as they are based on asbestos pipes.» But the chief obstacle to progress on works on Astypalaia is the lack of firms to conduct the relevant surveys. Heliports lie idle The heliports of most islands lie idle. After the crash of two National First Aid Center (EKAB) helicopters off Sounion in 2001 and on Anafi in June 2002, with a loss of 10 lives, doubts have arisen over their use. According to the community president of Sifnos, Giorgos Manalis, «the Alitalia administration, which was in charge of the business side of the EKAB helicopters, stated that they could not allow night flights and have asked for all island hills and mountains to have lighting placed on them, something which is impossible in practical terms due to the enormous cost.» Recently, a patient nearly lost his life on Sikinos because the helicopter never arrived for the airlift. «It’s a question of life and death. It’s inconceivable that islands should not have air transport,» said Manalis.

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