The two extremes

The two extremes

Every time an “extreme weather phenomenon” hits Greece, the state reacts with a generalized fear. Am I nagging? No, it is just an observation. And, to be sure, this kind of state response is preferable to no response or the insulting line – which was also disparaging toward the victims – “I had a stroke of bad luck on my shift,” immortalized by former regional governor Rena Dourou to describe the incompetence of state services during the deadly wildfires of East Attica in 2018. What a line that was! It remains as a mental monument of political immorality and cruelty.

However, the exaggeration we witnessed on Monday, with everything closing down, is not the reaction of a modern state. For example, shutting down the public sector and all schools in Attica shows a kind of panic. Obviously, this is a pre-election period and there is no room for carelessness, but we have already seen this pattern of exaggeration outside campaign time.

It’s fair to say that weather forecasts are not always that accurate – they couldn’t be. On Monday, in the afternoon, the weather eased and the snow melted in central Athens. It was absurd that the schools, for example, in a central district of Pangrati did not open. This year’s snowfall is not comparable with last year’s big storm or that one in 2021. But what if snowstorm Barbara turned out to be fiercer than expected? Who can guarantee how such intense weather phenomena is going to turn out?

Once bitten, twice shy, so every government official is now overly cautious. The reason for this reaction can be summarized in three disasters: the deadly flood in Mandra (2017), the deadly wildfire in Mati (2018) and the hundreds of cars trapped in a meter of snow on Attiki Odos (2022). And with the trial for the deaths in Mati under way, we are all reminded again of the horrors of those days. The flood in Mandra is the one that has been almost forgotten even though there were 24 victims. And last year’s fiasco with Attiki Odos is much more fresh in our minds, though thankfully there were no casualties. However, it was absurd for a critical artery like Attiki Odos to be closed like that, leaving drivers stranded for hours in the middle of nowhere.

These three extreme weather events have shifted the logic of those responsible in the state apparatus from inaction to knee-jerk reaction. Still, to be fair, that involves somewhat better preparation for such phenomena.

This pendulum that has swung from inaction to excessive reaction is the result of one thing only: the chronic absence of a state mechanism that operates independently, regardless of the party in power. Of course, things have evolved (the pandemic also played a role, being the most difficult challenge of all), but we still have a way to go before we can deal with such risks in an organized, calm manner and before the state and its services cease to be partisan.

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