NEWS

Lack of coordinated anti-flood controls

Obstacles and delays in the way the state operates were highlighted during this last summer’s catastrophic fires and their immediate aftermath. According to the authorities, there is a very real risk that the much-needed anti-erosion work in these areas might not be finished, and some may have been done twice, because action by ministries and local authorities is not centrally planned; in other words, the one hand often doesn’t know what the other is doing. The Ministry for Agricultural Development has made about 3 million euros available through the regional authorities for flood-control projects by forestry cooperatives, and these funds have been used. Last week Cypriot government representatives visited the fire-stricken regions and offered the forestry service 300,000 euros for projects around Artemida (in addition to the funds they will provide for the restoration of homes and olive groves in the same area). A few days later, forestry service staff received a cellphone message that the money would be given to the Environment and Public Works Ministry. «The ministry got involved in Parnitha because the National Park Management Agency comes under its jurisdiction. However that does not apply in the Peloponnese,» said Nikos Bokaris, head of the Panhellenic Union of Foresters. When Bokaris applied to the relevant ministry service for the funds, no one knew that the Agricultural Development Ministry had also provided 3 million euros for similar works. Meanwhile, funds were being sought to pay workers from the forestry cooperatives who were working in the forests. In the near future, about 6,000 people are to be hired on contract through the Manpower Organization (OAED) to cut timber and build anti-erosion dams in the municipalities affected by fires, «Local government agencies do not have the authority to undertake work within forests,» said Bokaris. To do so, they would have to enter into contracts with forestry authorities, which would supervise their work. If they do not, the 6,000 hired will have nothing to do, despite the great need for their services. Meanwhile, the forestry services in these areas are in a state of confusion as the summer fires have revealed a number of problems. The Olympia forestry services asked the Agricultural Development Ministry for instructions three weeks ago regarding the management of private land classified as forest. These properties should strictly speaking be destined for reforestation, since before the fires they were covered by forest vegetation, but their owners now want to cultivate them. The local forestry authority has written to the ministry citing the «injustice of depriving the owners, victims of the fires, of their fields» but it is clear that unless this is done under specific conditions, it could open a Pandora’s box, allowing other forests to be declassified.