Campaigners join forces to protect the environment

Five separate environmental campaigns are under way to oppose government projects, ranging from plans for a soccer stadium at Elaionas, western Athens, to a tourism project at Crete’s Toplou Monastery, which the campaigners believe will degrade the environment. «These five projects have one thing in common,» said Ilias Yianniris, head of the Open Space Watch, «namely they are the result of the state’s mistaken policies.» One is the diversion of the Acheloos River, which is to be discussed by the Council of State tomorrow as the Panhellenic Movement Against the Acheloos Diversion stages a demonstration in central Athens. It is the fifth appeal to the Council by the residents of Mesochora, in the prefecture of Trikala. The village is to be inundated by dam waters if the river is diverted. «Anyone who raises their voice in protest against the Mesochora dam is being called a traitor,» said resident Voula Vlachou. «No one is telling the truth – not to the Thessaly farmers nor to anyone else about the criminal repercussions the diversion will have.» The movement brings together groups from several parts of the country, even from Larissa, which benefits from the diversion. «The Acheloos (diversion) will not save Thessaly, moreover the water shortage on the plain of Thessaly is artificial,» claimed Giorgos Hondros, a member of one of the groups fighting to save the river. Hondros said that over 90 percent of the residents of Mesochora were against the project. A better solution and one proposed by the experts, he added, was to ensure that Thessaly’s own water reserves were more rationally managed. The establishment of the nationwide movement against the diversion had led to an effective environmental group with an emphasis on rivers and water resources generally, he said. «The issue of saving the Acheloos River has now transcended the purely local level,» he said. «The Asopos and Arachthos rivers are two more typical examples. It is time to stop the exploitation of state property by private firms,» he added. In a recent meeting in Ioannina, members of the Arachthos River Protection Committee proposed setting up a joint organization for groups fighting to protect rivers threatened by over-exploitation and poor management. Over-exploitation of river waters is just one aspect of the problem. The Asopos, Evros, Axios, Aliakmonas and Pineios are all being affected by drainage for irrigation or by major sources of pollution from within Greece or outside its borders. Elsewhere, the lease of the Olympic badminton hall in the Athens district of Goudi (now the 2,500-seat Badminton Theater) without any previous approval of an environmental study is the object of a protest by a committee of local residents. «A metropolitan park was proposed by three prime ministers, but has never been formalized,» said committee member Nikos Georgiopoulos. Twenty-five residents of the area around Elaionas along with the Committee to Save Elaionas have appealed to the council in protest at the overpricing of the site owned by the National Bank by as much as 13 million euros. «The area could be another green space for the city center,» said committee member Spyros Pilitsis. A ministerial decree approving the environmental study for the Kavo Sidero project in the prefecture of Lasithi on the island of Crete is the object of an appeal to the Council by EcoCrete (The Pan-Cretan Network of Environmental Groups). They claim that the tourism project will severely degrade the natural environment around Toplou Monastery. Finally, the suburban rail network is under fire from residents of areas through which it passes; they are calling for the track to be diverted underground.