OPINION

A disaster that was waiting to happen

There are many who had predicted last week’s energy crisis and environmental disaster as the warning signs were there for all to see. Before spring, experts had warned authorities of the threat of widespread blackouts during the summer months as the country’s energy reserves were inadequate. As for forest fires, they are the constant nightmare of government officials during the sweltering summer months. The power cuts suffered by a large segment of the population during last week’s oppressive heat wave were a disaster waiting to happen. Of course no one disputes that the weather conditions were unprecedented and demand for electricity hit record levels as citizens sought respite with their air conditioners. But the Public Power Corporation (PPC), which manages the country’s electricity network, had not taken any preventive measures. This has been the case for years and as a result all governments, regardless of political persuasion, have essentially been guilty of the same crime. The country’s largest state-run enterprise reached the point of not wanting the public to buy its product because it was unable to satisfy demand. The roots of this problem are the same as those that cripple and discredit all public services in the country – mismanagement and a focus on narrow, petty political interests as well as the absence of any clear strategy or policy. Neither the current New Democracy government nor the previous PASOK administrations realized the investments necessary for the creation of new power stations to run on natural gas. The plans have existed for years but no action has been taken to implement them. Meanwhile, old power stations have not been modernized and the distribution network has not been improved. In view of this, it is a miracle that we did not have a nationwide blackout. Sadly, the forest fires that ravaged Mount Parnitha and other parts of the country had also been a disaster waiting to happen. There are forest fires every year in Greece. And although the country has wide-ranging firefighting resources, they nevertheless remain vulnerable, as the blazes in Parnitha and Pelion proved. The possibility of being caught off guard is ever present and can lead to errors of judgment. Unfortunately the disaster is now a reality which cannot be reversed. What can – and must – be done is an assessment of what went wrong and why. After all, those responsible protecting Attica’s last vestige of greenery have failed in their mission. Let us not suffer a similar disaster the next time a heat wave hits the capital. We must also take measures to ensure that the burnt expanses of forestland are not built on by property developers. It is not enough for them to be merely designated as forestland; their status as such must be protected against all pressures that are likely to be exerted during this pre-election period.