Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Fire Situation in Greece

Having worked nearly 3 years with an NGO in Greece, when I see what is happening, I feel utterly upset with what is going on. Feels like my own home is burning to the ground!

The perception we have (at least in Switzerland) from what "perspires" from the Swiss and French press is a total lack of organization of the Greek government. One piece of news they keep repeating is: "help promised by the Greek government to the "victims" of the fires has still not arrived". This piece of news has been repeated for the last 2 weeks now!!! What is delaying help? How come 1 million can be offered by the Government in reward for anyone who has any information on who set the fires and the promised help get stuck somewhere???

Foreign press gives an idea of total indifference. Press around here never show images of the Prime Minister visiting the devastated areas. So my question is, has he ever been there? Has he fully evaluated the needs and anger of the Greek population? What is even worse, nothing done, foreign press gives an idea of total indifference. No official request for aid has been filed…seeing the magnitude of the disaster, one would expect such to happen.

But then, this is Europe and people think it is a region rich enough to deal with its own problems, other areas of the world deserve more attention. I don't deny help is more than needed elsewhere (having worked for many years in the NGO field, I know what it means to "need help"), but we are forgetting about ourselves while on our pursuit to "save the world" (or is it that this is not a big enough "complex emergency" which would focus the attention on NGOs and therefore bring fame and money?)

Being Portuguese I used to worry each time I had calls from family mentioning huge fires were raging during summer. Then 2 years ago, Portugal nearly completely burnt to the ground (if I can use the image). The Portuguese government seemed to think that "enough is enough" and decided to take what, in my view, is a very sensible and intelligent measure, they changed the law in a way that burnt land could not immediately be exploited by building companies and see buildings pop-up like mushrooms instead of trees! Such requests by building contractors are now studied case-by-case based on the "history" of the land area.

In 2005, the Institute for Nature Conservation (ICN), established in its report the following topics as the main priorities in terms of the protection of the forests against fire: decrease the burnt area, especially in "priority" areas for nature conservation as the most valuable ecological areas, reduce the number of ignitions, reduce the vulnerability of these areas and (most important in my opinion) monitor and restore burnt areas. There is also a greater awareness and commitment of public and private institutions in promoting a greater surveillance effort.

Therefore, "tree land" that could not be exploited because of its specificity, is now "non-building zone" if it was ravaged by a (natural?) fire!
Has anyone heard of huge fires in Portugal ever since? Compared to 2 years ago, this was a very, very calm year "summer-fire" wise.

Should Greece contemplate such a solution? Appropriate mapping of burnt land which would provide statistics on if "tree" land was yes or no changed into a "building zone" and at what rate would bring correct answers to the summer fire problems. One could then compare how many fires were "accidental", man induced and why if man induced as well as keep a track record of what was "forest zone" and what was "building zone" to avoid buildings to pop-up where they shouldn't!

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