Ileia’s scorched earth a foretaste of even more radical changes to come

The effects of last summer’s disastrous wildfires have left the future of many areas in doubt, particularly the prefecture of Ileia, which saw the worst of the destruction. The region could go the way of intensive development and mass tourism that would destroy the social and economic fabric that linked the coastal, semi-mountainous and mountainous regions prior to the fires. Or the emphasis could be on modernizing and improving agriculture by developing organic farming and manufacturing high quality local products along with low-impact tourism. Shortly after the fires, the National Technical University of Athens undertook a pilot study of the situation in the broader region of the old district of Olympia (covering the greater part of the prefecture of Ileia). It was carried out by 53 faculty members and dozens of students in cooperation with local authorities. The region was chosen as it had the highest proportion of loss of human life and destruction of property, means of production and forests. It was also at a crossroads with regard to the implementation of important policies, chiefly within the context of the tourism zoning plan now under discussion. The results of the survey were presented last week and, as the school of architecture and engineering pointed out, development models for the region have not been clearly defined, leading to a proliferation of rumors that only make its future even more uncertain. «It is no coincidence that in local newspapers there are a large number of classified advertisements of land for sale in mountain and coastal areas but also other ads asking for land to buy,» they said. Only large-scale projects had been approved, such as highways, airports and harbors, and mega-tourism seemed to be the desired goal, but no discussion of smaller or medium-sized projects for development based on the manufacture of high-quality products. The accompanying report proposes that general zoning plans be drafted to strengthen the network of settlements and avoid the polarization that would be caused by mass tourism which has brought so many catastrophic consequences for other countries such as Spain. «Unaccountable economies create unaccountable communities,» said Professor Maria Mantouvalou. The report also pointed out the inadequacy of available zoning policy tools that could highlight the region’s advantages (wealth of varied vegetation and monuments, including the world-famous site of Ancient Olympia). The School of Mining and Metallurgy Engineers warned of future problems of flooding and landslides. Nearly half (48 percent) of the soil in the municipality of Zacharo is unstable, compared to just 27 percent before the fires. The civil engineering school studied the damage to buildings affected by the fires. «Colleagues, particularly from the Earthquake Victims Rehabilitation Service, who were given the task of inspecting the buildings were not qualified; they used specifications used in assessing earthquake damage,» pointed out Professor Elisabeth Vintzilaiou. The report’s findings will be published in a Practical Guide to be presented by the Technical Chamber of Greece to engineers for drafting plans for restoring buildings and taking preventive measures.