NEWS

Greece faces rising air pollution problems as well as serious difficulties with waste

“The environment is not something we remember for one day a year and forget until the following year,» Environment Minister Vasso Papandreou said – precisely one year ago. What she said is no more than the truth, not, unfortunately, as to the wish expressed but as to the reality it described. World Environment Day on Thursday (June 5) arrived attended by fights over proper waste management in Attica, a burning issue that is dogged by local, party and business confrontations, and rising levels of air pollution. Waste The attempt to put some order into Athens’s garbage disposal system has come to the forefront in the past few months. But the latest announcements by the Ministry of the Environment, Planning and Public Works (YPEHODE) fail to convince that illegal dumps in this country are a thing of the past with the Attica region providing a start. Local interests, coupled with hints that certain landfill and waste management sites have been chosen without undue care, or with ulterior motives, look set to lead to legal action that will overturn the scheme, yet again. Simultaneously, the ministry is rushing to have environmental studies completed by the end of August, so that the new landfills can be financed by the EU’s Cohesion Fund. Despite these efforts, Greeks are falling far short of making a conscious attempt to protect the environment. This can be seen both in cities and on beaches, even at rallies against the new landfills; there is litter everywhere. But it is particularly manifest in the thousands of illegal garbage dumps that dot the country, of which the best known is Kouroupitos in Hania, Crete. It looks likely to return to the limelight, since the factory that compresses the waste into bales is not in operation. EU inspectors look set to bring yet another legal case against the country. In Greek cities, especially Athens and Thessaloniki, old forms of air pollution are being replaced by particles and benzoyl. The two cities have twice the permissible limits of airborne particle pollution, managing to top a list of 19 European cities. Little respite Obligations that Greece has signed onto under the Kyoto Protocol have been added to numerous other undertakings it has been unable to fulfill. Emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide have increased by 23 percent since 1990, 8.7 units higher than the set target, and continue to rise. The Greek presidency provided a brief respite, since EU inspectors tend not to burden the presiding country with visits and charges. However, they are expected to return when Greece yields the helm to Italy in July. The inspectors are expected to demand explanations for chronic problems such the Kouroupitos garbage dump (for which a solution should have been found two years ago) and protection for the Caretta caretta turtle on the island of Zakynthos (a fresh condemnation is pending). No fewer than 21 warnings were handed to Greece during the inspectors’ last visit, over such things as wetland protection, the reckless use of pesticides on Crete (resulting in the poisoning of Eleonora’s falcon) and other instances of uncontrolled economic activities that harm the environment. Environment Day was hardly a day of celebration for Greece.