A nonpartisan approach to natural disasters

A nonpartisan approach to natural disasters

Everyone is talking about how poorly Monday’s snowstorm was handled and responsibility for this is widespread: private and public (state and regional level), individual and collective. It makes sense that the opposition parties are so vocal in their criticism.

However, looking ahead, it would be good if they all sat down – or at least the three main parties that have governed, that have had to manage natural disasters and have paid the political toll in the process – to agree on a joint operational strategy to deal with the next one.

If we want the situation to ever improve, it is not enough for one side to blame the other every time something goes wrong. We had the deadly flash floods in Mandra in Western Attica in 2017 and then the devastating wildfires in Eastern Attica in 2018. Mistakes were made and responsibility assigned. The government at the time paid the price and its mismanagement of both events was part of the reason why it lost the election in 2019.

More extreme weather phenomena have plagued this government too: floods in 2020 from storms Thaleia and Ianos, heavy snow in 2021 from Medea, last summer’s wildfires and now this snowstorm, Elpis.

Natural disasters don’t care about ideologies and party affiliations. Shouldn’t how we approach them transcend politics? Shouldn’t they be beyond the scope of political confrontation?

And wouldn’t it make more sense that the people responsible for managing them were appointed on merit, experience and expertise alone? All the political parties should have a say and their opinions be taken into account. It should be agreed that managing extreme natural events will be done at a national level, in a process that transcends parties. One party should not wait for the other to fail so it can reap rewards.

Let the right, center and left clash over economic policy, tax cuts, business incentives and the role of the state and so much more, but not over natural disasters (not over national defense either).

The decision a few months ago, by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, to invite the former armed forces chief under the SYRIZA government, retired Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis, to take over civil protection was a move in the right direction. The issue here is not how this process was handled, but rather the fact that it was a departure from the usual course and signaled how maybe things should be done.

The choice that followed, that of Christos Stylianides for the same post, was also correct. Having managed natural disasters as EU commissioner and having worked with the previous government too, he was a good choice.

Party cooperation in a vague sense is not enough. What is needed is true meritocracy: choosing the best people for the job regardless of ideology. And, of course, making sure they have the moral, political and material support they need. From all sides, all the time, regardless of who is in power.

Is it really that difficult?

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