Lessons to learn from a catastrophe

We know it is going to be tough – in view of the fact that many parts of the country are still burning and hundreds of our fellow citizens are mourning the loss of loved ones – but it is also imperative: we have to start looking at «the next day» following the devastating fires of the past week that claimed dozens of lives. If there is one lesson to be learnt from the national disaster that struck last Friday, and is only now starting to abate, it is that climate change has indeed made fires an «asymmetric threat,» though not in the sense implied by Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras, and should be tackled as such. What does this mean in practice? It means that, as a State and as citizens, we should be constantly vigilant and make every effort to reach a «national consensus» on how best to protect our forests, and by extension, our very lives and livelihoods. Drawing on the gloomy lessons of the past few days, such an agreement could be based on a few fundamental initiatives. Firstly, thorough clarification of the responsibilities of the fire service and the civil protection service. Secondly, the creation of an inter-ministerial body, headed by a minister responsible for organizing initiatives to tackle environmental crises like the current one, with similar bodies at the local government level. Thirdly, the active participation of the armed forces in fire-fighting efforts, for as we have seen, fires can spread at an alarming rate. Fourth, rigorous inspections by local authorities at the beginning of the summer so that municipalities do not go up in flames one by one. Fifth, the organization of citizens in such a way so that they are able to augment, rather than hinder, the efforts of firefighters and forest rangers. Sixth, the undertaking by all political parties of a commitment to prevent such catastrophes from becoming the focus of petty political clashes. Seventh, the drafting of plans to rescue citizens who have become trapped in inaccessible areas, in order to avert tragedies such as the one that struck the area of Zacharo. All the above suggestions constitute an obligation on the part of the State and citizens alike, not only toward their environment but also toward all those who died during the past week. Lastly, it is self-evident that whichever government emerges from the coming elections must set as a priority the reconstruction of fire-ravaged areas, the boosting of social support for victims and the advancing of the proposal of French President Nicolas Sarkozy for a common forest fire-fighting force for Southeastern Europe.