Ecological crime going without punishment

As one report follows another in the media regarding the country’s serious environmental problems, politicians’ statements and speeches give the impression that environmental protection is one of the government’s top priorities. In reality, much less is being done that at first appears, and those who are committing serious crimes against the environment continue to cause widespread destruction. On the one hand the state condemns these crimes, yet on the other is itself part of the problem. Along the banks of the Kifissos River that runs through Athens from its northern suburbs south to the Saronic coastline, a number of laws are regularly broken and the situation continues to be completely out of hand. Only last Thursday, the Kifissia Municipal Council approved the inclusion in the town plan of a 4-hectare forest on the banks of the river at Adames. At Inofyta, hundreds of industries continue to pump their waste into the Asopos River, as the paltry fines for those caught in the act cost far less than waste treatment systems. In coastal Glyfada, the state refused to recognize and protect 1,100 hectares of state forest coveted by land-grabbers. On Mt Pendeli, thousands of demolition orders have not been enforced, while the illegal quarry at Markopoulo is still in operation. The recent fires on Attica’s mountains took everyone by surprise and have prompted debate on the entire issue of environmental protection. However, if the fires have shocked people it is because such huge areas of forest were scorched in just a few hours, yet the destruction continues over the long term, and silently, in the form of deforestation and conversion of the land into building plots for housing. According to data of the Attica Ecology Campaign, the following six areas are under serious threat: Aghios Stefanos. A huge expanse to the north of the settlement is being built on within dense forest. Despite rulings to the contrary by the Council of State, permits continue to be granted, the settlement is expanding and the forests shrinking. Anixi, Attica. Large swathes of thick pine forest are being swept away by earth-moving equipment to make way for housing complexes and public utilities. With the consent of the municipality, prefecture and landowners, small streams are being diverted, replaced by pipelines or filled in to make way for the builders. Kryoneri. Deforestation and landfilling have reached the bed of the Kifissos to make way for more building, even within the Kifissos First Protection Zone, while the local municipality has drafted a plan to reduce the width of the zone. Kiourka. Areas of pine forest once set aside for the sole use of resin collectors are being divided up for housing and construction is already under way. Cutting down pine trees is not permitted but luxury homes are springing up in the forest with permits from the local building authority. At the new «Hippocrateios Politeia» housing settlement, on the northern part of Mt Parnitha, valid building permits have been issued for housing construction in dense virgin forest (an area 10 times larger than at Kiourka). Melissia. The municipality has installed concrete pillars in the Paliayianni watercourse (a protected tributary of the Halandri stream on Pendeli) and filled in the watercourse to facilitate owners of land along its banks who then filled in another stream in the forest. On the borders of the same municipality, on the banks of a central watercourse that reaches as far as Halandri (and which is protected by presidential decree), the municipal authorities are carrying out «improvement» work, destroying the natural vegetation and adding concrete, which is strictly prohibited in the presidential decree. Similar action is being taken in Stamata, Dionysos, Nea Erythraia, Ano Voula (Lykorema) and elsewhere. According to the European Central Bank, corruption costs Greece about 15 billion euros annually. About 30-40 percent of that amount goes in bribes to public servants. It is not only the powerful who have politicians in their pockets, nor the lobbyists laying siege to their offices to promote their own interests (at a price). It is not only fat kickbacks being channeled by clandestine networks to untraceable bank accounts. It is also ordinary people who are guilty of passing sums of money under the table to get their permits approved or speed up bureaucratic procedures. Greece tops the list of European countries with regard to the bribery of state officials by members of the public wanting to have forests declassified (over 2 million Greeks have applied to the Agriculture Ministry over the past decade for precisely this purpose). There are others who simply clear forest and build on it, filling in streams (60 percent, or 850 kilometers, of Attica’s watercourses have been filled in). People don’t think twice about turning farmland or public land into building plots. The powers that be, meanwhile, do nothing, even when scandals are made public. Experience has shown that scandals do not shake party followers’ faith in their leaders. Therefore there is no point in enacting laws banning these acts, or in carrying out inspections or imposing penalties. There seems to be absolutely no concern about the fact that public land is being despoiled and eaten away, sometimes used as bargaining chips by people anxious to stay in power. How else could one explain the fact that although the Greek state knows that it owns about 200,000 hectares of land (apart from a similarly sized area registered as state-owned) it makes no attempt to protect it, but instead is leaving it at the mercy of land-grabbers?

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