Development leads to wet feet

The unchecked development gobbling up Attica’s farmland and forests, combined with ill-conceived flood protection works and poor planning, has multiplied the threat of flooding in the greater Athens area, experts warned yesterday. «The transformation of arable land and forests into built-up areas is the basic cause of the problem,» civil engineer Costas Savvidis told an Athens conference on flood protection in Attica, organized by the Technical Chamber of Greece (TEE). «Whenever the weather is unusually inclement, we will get our feet wet.» TEE Chairman Yiannis Alavanos said that as a result of reckless development, combined with the recent string of major public works in and around Athens, «the quantity of rainwater heading for [streambeds and the sea] has quadrupled, while its speed has grown by a factor of three.» While undeveloped land used to absorb 80 percent of the rainfall in the greater Athens area, with only 20 percent ending up in the sea, these figures have now been fully reversed. Alavanos said that recent flood protection works – carried out at an overall cost of 723 million euros – had not only failed to address the problem but may have aggravated matters. The TEE chairman argued that the works may have solved difficulties in flood-prone areas, such as Moschato, Rendi, Faliron, the Attiki Odos highway and the Eleftherios Venizelos Airport, however many of these projects had just transposed the problem elsewhere, such as to Rafina (due to the Attiki Odos), Spata (due to the airport) and the southern coastal avenue (due to the tram works). Deputy Public Works Minister Themistoklis Xanthopoulos told the conference that a proposed master plan to address flooding would cost around a billion euros – a sum which is not yet available.