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 residence 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 world 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 top of July, greater than 500 wildfires had been burning throughout the nation.
A few of them swept by way of the plains of the area of Magnesia, the place Mount Pelion is situated, killing two individuals, 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 residence to farming communities that know the mountain very nicely and maintain it as a part of their agricultural actions. They’re additionally fairly well-organised and have a robust communal bond that retains an area volunteer firefighting drive 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 rapidly crammed up. Everybody contributed and everybody appeared to agree that protecting the forest secure – and by extension property and farms – is a communal accountability.
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 fully ravaged by the hearth.
Evros area, the place Dadia is situated, witnessed Europe’s largest wildfire on document, with greater than 94,000 hectares (232,000 acres) of land and forests burned.
The individuals of Evros mobilised too, however some didn’t combat the blaze. Official claims that among the fires had 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 had 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 method of the Greek authorities to wildfire administration is failing and what they need to be doing as an alternative.
Launched in 1998 for the primary time, the present state technique to sort out wildfires invests closely in placing out fires with firefighting brigades moderately than stopping them by way of higher forest administration. It additionally doesn’t embody 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 development has led to settlements turning into dying traps throughout fireplace emergencies. On the similar time, weak safety of forests and different pure habitats has allowed human encroachment on these areas and thus put them at larger threat of fires.
Because of this, the nation has fared a lot worse by way of wildfire-cased destruction than different international locations with comparable landscapes and weather conditions. In keeping with the Nationwide Observatory of Athens, the nation’s most distinguished analysis institute, Greece ranks first amongst Mediterranean international locations by way of space burned by wildfires this 12 months – near 688,000 hectares (1.7 million acres); additionally it is first by way of 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 had been despatched to Greece; when the fires began, they had been instantly mobilised alongside their Greek colleagues.
The Greek authorities was additionally capable of activate the EU Civil Safety Mechanism to request extra assist in the primary section of the fires. However even with EU help, Greece was unable to deal with the inferno of this wildfire season.
Different EU international locations vulnerable to wildfires have realised that investing solely in a firefighting drive 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 method to tackling wildfires.
From establishing an built-in fireplace company that features forest specialists 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. Up to now, there was no repeat of the 2017 megafire.
Greece, in contrast, has chosen to not be taught 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 Heart on the Max Planck Institute in Germany, was requested to advise the federal government on easy methods to enhance fireplace administration within the nation.
The committee Goldammer shaped produced a report, emphasising one precept above all: prevention. His suggestions, nevertheless, had been by no means applied.
It’s time to appropriate this error. Greece ought to develop a complete method that prioritises environmental stewardship and long-term planning for local weather disaster mitigation over short-term financial good points from land growth. That requires a paradigm shift in governance that overhauls financial growth and spatial and concrete planning methods.
Which means that the state must carry 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 threat 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 in opposition to these individuals, the federal government can maybe encourage them to play this function once more.
The Greek state additionally wants to ascertain agency management over development. Presently, with varied financial sectors lobbying laborious for lax laws, the regulation in Greece permits lands which have been burned by wildfires for use for the development of housing, tourism amenities, wind generators, and so on. Other than prioritising enterprise pursuits over the restoration of devastated forests and habitats, such authorized provisions might 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 development, and dealing with native communities also can assist mitigate the consequences of floods.
The heavy rains that swept by way of barren land in Greece had been a great reminder of that. Storm Daniel drowned the nation, killing 14 individuals 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 must take into account making a everlasting local weather loss and harm fund to assist probably 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 constructions to have the ability to sort out local weather challenges. Progress in any respect prices wants to provide option to sustainable growth, conservation, and safety of habitats and native communities. Painful modifications must be made.
And whereas Greek and EU political and financial elites waver when laborious selections must 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 laborious to open blocked roads, helped with post-flooding cleanup, saved a gaggle of refugee youngsters from an overflowing river, and usually equipped the town of Volos with clear water from the mountain.
The individuals of Mount Pelion don’t endure from any doubts. They know that placing the preservation and wellbeing of the neighborhood and nature above slender egoistic self-interest is the correct factor to do.
The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.