This summer time, I made a decision to hunt refuge from the warmth in Mount Pelion, a mountainous area within the coronary heart of Greece, midway between Athens and Thessaloniki. It’s house to breathtaking forests and vibrant native communities, the place the preservation of pure wealth is a lifestyle.
However quickly after I arrived, the spectre of a significant wildfire introduced a lot nervousness to residents of the realm and their friends. Because the local weather disaster has intensified lately, so has the wildfire season in Greece. This 12 months continued this development. By the tip of July, greater than 500 wildfires have been burning throughout the nation.
A few of them swept by means of the plains of the area of Magnesia, the place Mount Pelion is positioned, killing two folks, burning greater than 5,000 hectares (12,000 acres) of land and inflicting immeasurable financial harm. However Mount Pelion itself remained untouched.
Native volunteers, together with forest fireplace brigades, mobilised to place out the flames at any time when they approached the mountain and threatened the forest.
Pelion is house to farming communities that know the mountain very nicely and deal with it as a part of their agricultural actions. They’re additionally fairly well-organised and have a powerful communal bond that retains a neighborhood volunteer firefighting pressure well-equipped and able to take motion at any time when there’s a fireplace emergency.
I witnessed firsthand this communal spirit one August evening on the native cafe within the village of Stagiates on the outskirts of Magnesia’s capital Volos. Residents launched a fundraiser for the native patrol of volunteers monitoring the forest and the coffers shortly crammed up. Everybody contributed and everybody appeared to agree that preserving the forest secure – and by extension property and farms – is a communal duty.
Whereas Mount Pelion survived the flames this summer time, one other mountainous area, the nationwide park of Dadia, within the northeast, close to the border with Turkey and Bulgaria, burned badly. Greater than half of its space was utterly ravaged by the hearth.
Evros area, the place Dadia is positioned, witnessed Europe’s largest wildfire on record, with greater than 94,000 hectares (232,000 acres) of land and forests burned.
The folks of Evros mobilised too, however some didn’t combat the blaze. Official claims that a few of the fires have been the results of intentional arson despatched native residents searching for scapegoats. Shopping for into authorities anti-immigrant rhetoric and rumours that asylum seekers crossing from Turkey have been beginning fires, they began “searching” for the perpetrators. In a single incident, native residents kidnapped and locked up 13 refugees in a trailer for hours.
What occurred to Dadia and Pelion this summer time illustrates nicely how the present strategy of the Greek authorities to wildfire administration is failing and what they need to be doing as a substitute.
Launched in 1998 for the primary time, the present state technique to deal with wildfires invests closely in placing out fires with firefighting brigades slightly than stopping them by means of higher forest administration. It additionally doesn’t embrace native communities in firefighting efforts, prevention and planning.
The failures of the wildfire administration technique are compounded by many years of state negligence in city planning and nature preservation. Lax management of building has led to settlements changing into demise traps throughout fireplace emergencies. On the identical time, weak safety of forests and different pure habitats has allowed human encroachment on these areas and thus put them at larger danger of fires.
Consequently, the nation has fared a lot worse when it comes to wildfire-cased destruction than different international locations with comparable landscapes and weather conditions. In response to the Nationwide Observatory of Athens, the nation’s most outstanding analysis institute, Greece ranks first amongst Mediterranean international locations when it comes to space burned by wildfires this 12 months – near 688,000 hectares (1.7 million acres); additionally it is first when it comes to the variety of acres affected per forest fireplace – 19,207 hectares (47,462 acres).
In recent times, the European Union – recognising the grim actuality of local weather change and its impact on wildfires – has began a union-wide effort to extend wildfire preparedness. For instance, originally of the summer time this 12 months, firefighting brigades from different international locations have been despatched to Greece; when the fires began, they have been instantly mobilised alongside their Greek colleagues.
The Greek authorities was additionally in a position to activate the EU Civil Safety Mechanism to request extra assist in the primary part of the fires. However even with EU help, Greece was unable to deal with the inferno of this wildfire season.
Different EU international locations susceptible to wildfires have realised that investing solely in a firefighting pressure or ready for EU help doesn’t assist and have taken motion. Portugal is a living proof. After experiencing a devastating blaze in 2017, the Portuguese authorities overhauled its strategy to tackling wildfires.
From establishing an built-in fireplace company that features forest consultants and conservationists to banning new plantations of the extremely flammable eucalyptus tree and coordinating managed burning of particles, Portugal launched a wide range of practices targeted on prevention, and it labored. To this point, there was no repeat of the 2017 megafire.
Greece, against this, has chosen to not study from previous tragedies. After the tragic 2018 fireplace close to Athens, which resulted in 100 deaths, world-renowned Professor Johann Goldammer, director of the International Fireplace Monitoring Middle on the Max Planck Institute in Germany, was requested to advise the federal government on methods to enhance fireplace administration within the nation.
The committee Goldammer fashioned produced a report, emphasising one precept above all: prevention. His suggestions, nonetheless, have been by no means applied.
It’s time to appropriate this error. Greece ought to develop a complete strategy that prioritises environmental stewardship and long-term planning for local weather disaster mitigation over short-term financial positive factors from land improvement. That requires a paradigm shift in governance that overhauls financial improvement and spatial and concrete planning methods.
Which means the state must deliver again the forestry company into wildfire administration actions, develop a forest stock and a functioning cadastre. It should work with communities to assist and coordinate self-organisation and preparedness for wildfires, use native data of the terrain and promote actions that assist take away flammable supplies from lands and forests – together with focused grazing and forest particles clearing.
One of many key suggestions of the Goldammer report is to cut back wildfire danger by restoring agricultural actions within the countryside to handle biomass. This implies supporting rural communities and inspiring the reversal of urbanisation as a state coverage.
Prior to now, immigrants have helped preserve deserted areas of the countryside alive. As a substitute of fuelling xenophobia and hatred towards these folks, the federal government can maybe encourage them to play this position once more.
The Greek state additionally wants to determine agency management over building. At the moment, with numerous financial sectors lobbying onerous for lax rules, the regulation in Greece permits lands which have been burned by wildfires for use for the development of housing, tourism services, wind generators, and so forth. Aside from prioritising enterprise pursuits over the restoration of devastated forests and habitats, such authorized provisions could encourage arson.
All of those measures is not going to solely assist with wildfires but in addition different pure disasters. Restoring forests, correctly managing land, regulating building, and dealing with native communities may assist mitigate the results of floods.
The heavy rains that swept by means of barren land in Greece have been a very good reminder of that. Storm Daniel drowned the nation, killing 14 folks and paralysing central Greece – the center of Greek agriculture.
Shortly after, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis travelled to Strasbourg to satisfy EU Fee President Ursula von der Leyen to ask for monetary assist. Because the fallout of the local weather disaster intensifies throughout the EU borders, the union should think about making a everlasting local weather loss and harm fund to assist essentially the most affected member states.
However the EU technique ought to transcend monetary devices. It might want to overhaul its personal political and financial methods and buildings to have the ability to deal with local weather challenges. Development in any respect prices wants to offer method to sustainable improvement, conservation, and safety of habitats and native communities. Painful modifications should be made.
And whereas Greek and EU political and financial elites waver when onerous choices have to be taken within the face of local weather disaster, the residents of Mount Pelion don’t. After the floods that adopted the fires, they as soon as once more did what they know greatest: they organised.
They labored onerous to open blocked roads, helped with post-flooding cleanup, saved a gaggle of refugee kids from an overflowing river, and repeatedly provided town of Volos with clear water from the mountain.
The folks of Mount Pelion don’t undergo from any doubts. They know that placing the preservation and wellbeing of the group and nature above slim egoistic self-interest is the best factor to do.
The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.