Three gray areas in amendment call for strong political will

According to engineers and environmental organizations, the ministry’s initiative is a step in the right direction, but there are three points that need attention. First of all, the amendment does not apply to buildings that were illegally constructed in these areas in the past (for some strange reason, these have survived the fires) but only to new structures. This means the ministry can once again avoid handling the hot potato that is illegal construction, despite the fact that it would have been an excellent opportunity to deal with it once and for all, at least in the areas destroyed this summer. The amendment does not say what is to be done about demolition orders already pending in forests not destroyed by fire. The previous demolition procedures have been stalled by bureaucracy, with the result that thousands of orders have not yet been enforced. The Pendeli forestry service alone has over 5,000 demolition orders pending but none have been executed, as the ministry has hesitated rather than taking immediate action. Finally, the decision does not apply to all forests burnt but only those designated for reforestation. This is very important as after each major fire what usually happens is that part of the forest destroyed is reclassified and is left without protection. According to Yiannis Alavanos, president of the Technical Chamber of Greece, after every forest fire at least 15 hectares end up being built on. The ministry’s actions are no doubt well-intentioned but that is not enough. For example, one of the most common arguments raised by prefectures for not demolishing illegal structures is that they do not have the necessary staff or means. In some cases this is true, but usually the lack of means is simply an excuse covering a multitude of sins. What is needed is strong political will so that the amendment can be enacted to break the cycle of illegality and lack of accountability and naturally any illegal transactions between state services, land-grabbers and local authorities.