If – God forbid – a month from now, a fire were to break out in a part of Attica that escaped the devastating blazes this summer, would we be ready to deal with it better than we did in August?
Have you see any local government teams removing the dried branches left on the roadsides after Storm Medea? Have forest services rushed to create firebreaks? Have they started thinning the forests where there are 74 or 123 pines per acre instead of 7.4, which should be the maximum density? Are plots of land in areas where people live being cleared of flammable pine trees? Has Greece’s Public Power Corporation replaced any of its dangerous power transformers? Have any of those who continue to leave garbage in the forests been punished for it? Has it become mandatory to insure buildings, so that the taxpayer does not end up having to pay for burned houses after every fire? The answer to all these questions is no.
There are problems that cannot be resolved or fixed immediately – they require studies and time. But there always seems to be a carelessness, an indolence, regarding many issues that are long-standing but could be fixed here and now.
Of course there is also the climate crisis, which is not a future eventuality, and dealing with it is very important. It is a complex issue that requires revolutionary changes in the way we produce and live, across a range of activities, as well as a change in our priorities and, above all, values. The climate crisis requires clashing with established interests that hinder the development of new markets. A key concern is the adaptation of all our infrastructure, so that it becomes resistant to extreme weather.
Europe could do a lot. The idea of creating a fund to strengthen the resilience of European infrastructure which is neither new nor resistant to extreme weather events has been expressed. The fund could borrow from international markets in euros, taking advantage of the European Commission’s high credit rating and infrastructure projects to finance trans-European transport, communications and energy infrastructure. A lot needs to be done (and can be done) with European initiative and solidarity.
But the climate crisis and the need for European action cannot serve as an alibi for the omissions that have characterized Greek public policy for decades, though the dangers were well known and catastrophic fires occurred repeatedly: About 110,000 hectares burned in 1988, 167,000 hectares in 2000 and over 270,000 hectares in 2007. Nor can they become an alibi for our inactivity, by leaving until tomorrow what should have been done yesterday.
To be honest, the only things that are done quickly are the disbursements of financial aid to those affected by the fires and some direct assignments of studies and projects for flood prevention. Just as well, one might say. I remember, 31 years ago, on August 23, 1990, in Psaropouli on Evia, water rushed down the bare, burnt mountainside like a waterfall and drowned eight people. We must prevent similar incidents from happening today. And to do this effectively, you need to care for more than just the immediate political cost.