The unprecedented subzero temperatures and heavy snowfall of the past week are likely to have serious repercussions if drastic steps are not taken to support the Greek economy. Rising prices for basic produce and the ensuing rise in the inflation rate is a major cause of concern to the government, which is trying to keep prices at reasonable levels, particularly those of imports. Huge funds will be needed to compensate primary producers, who lost much of this year’s crop, as well as the trees and plants that produce them. Evia, Boeotia, Thessaly, Arta, Fthiotida, Imathia and Crete are the regions hardest hit by the bad weather. Farmers there are referring to it as a tragedy. As a sign of the gravity of the situation, the interministerial committee on the development of the countryside yesterday held its first meeting since its inception. Senior Agriculture Ministry officials have begun to tour the provinces to record the extent of the damage. According to initial estimates, damage to cultivated crops will cost over 40 million euros, not including compensation for the trees and plants which were destroyed. Economic help will be sought from the European Union and produce will be imported as a way of dealing with market shortages. Deputy Development Minister Christos Theodorou said there is already a serious shortage of vegetables. Potatoes, carrots and cabbages are to be imported immediately, although he did not specify from which countries of origin. Potatoes have always been imported from Turkey but Greece’s neighbor has also been struck by bad weather. The Greek Agricultural Insurance Organization (ELGA) estimates that about 30 million euros will be required to compensate farmers for damage to orange orchards, 6 million euros for the remaining crops and 4 million euros for livestock products. Nearly the entire outdoor vegetable crop has been destroyed and a large part of crops grown under cover, because of the damage to greenhouses by strong winds or heavy snow. The damage to the citrus crops (oranges, lemons and mandarins) is almost total for the 30 to 40 percent of the crop still on the trees. According to ELGA’s initial estimates, 20,000 tons of oranges in Arta and a similar quantity in the Argolid were destroyed by frost. In the Peloponnese prefectures of Achaia, Corinth and Ileia, 20,000 tons of oranges and 35,000 tons of lemons were destroyed and 40,000 to 50,000 tons of oranges in Laconia. For the first time, compensation will have to be paid to Cretan farmers, who have lost about 40,000 tons of oranges. The greatest problem is the destruction of the trees and plants themselves, particularly olive trees and vines which are not ELGA’s responsibility but fall under the Agriculture Ministry’s Department of Civil Planning for Emergencies, which will have to seek European Union approval for compensation, so the funds are not viewed as an indirect subsidy. Agriculture Minister Giorgos Drys said he would raise the issue at the next EU farm ministers’ meeting on January 21. By then, all the data on the damage will have been collected and the agriculture minister will probably ask the EU for additional economic assistance, as happened in 1987 under similar circumstances.