Cross-border cooperation

The Evros and Axios are two of the longest rivers in Greece, lifelines of the agricultural economy and our natural environment. They irrigate some of the country’s lushest plains, those of Macedonia and Thrace, and host unique ecosystems. They are the greatest asset that nature has bestowed not just on northern Greece, but on the country as a whole. The Evros poses a threat of devastating flooding and the Axios has become a river of poison. Authorities in the Evros region have been on red alert for the past week as they expect torrential flooding from Bulgaria that cannot be contained by the river’s banks and may flood thousands of hectares. Large parts of the plain in Andrianoupolis, on Turkish soil, have already been turned into lakes and a similar fate awaits the plains of Orestiada, Didimoteicho, Soufli and the Evros Delta, threatening the wonderful flora and fauna of the area. Concern is also running high on the Macedonia plain over the possible influx of 180 tons of toxic waste currently being «stored» in a ramshackle unit in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), which could spill out into the Thermaic Gulf. The state mechanism and local authorities are doing their best to deal with these threats, but the real solution is not to be found in what Greece alone is prepared to do. Without the cooperation of Bulgaria, FYROM and Turkey, the Evros will drown us and the Axios will poison us. In order for the Evros to stop flooding, extensive work needs to be carried out on clearing the river bed and removing the small islets that hamper the flow of torrents. Such work, however, cannot be carried out without a political agreement between Greece and Turkey, because the border between the two countries in Thrace is right along the river bed and delineates sensitive military zones for both countries. Last Sunday, on the bridge of the swollen Evros – the area was already in a state of alert – the prime ministers of the two countries met for the inauguration of a natural gas pipeline. Costas Karamanlis and Recep Tayyip Erdogan said they were looking at forging further bonds of cooperation in areas of mutual interest. They even announced Greek-Turkish cooperation in power lines that will bring the two coasts closer to one another and dispel some of the clouds over the Aegean. Perhaps it is also time for some bold decisions to be taken on the Evros. As far as the Axios River is concerned, the issue has been put on ice as temperatures run high between Greece and FYROM over the issue of the latter’s name. The Axios has been put on hold, even though it poses a public health hazard.