Powerful winds, high temperatures and dry weather continue to fuel Greek wildfires, destroying properties and natural habitats, while political questions are being raised over the effectiveness of fire prevention and mitigation measures.
This summer, Greece has experienced one of its longest heatwaves, with temperatures reaching up to 45?C, according to the Hellenic National Meteorological Service.
“This summer is the worst in history, since meteorological data has been collected,” said the Greek Minister of Climate Crisis and Civil Protection, Vasilis Kikilias, during a press conference on Wednesday (23 August).
The Attica and Thessaly regions, as well as the islands of Corfu and Rhodes, were heavily affected by wildfires in July.
Now, new fires have broken out, threatening settlements, livelihoods, as well as ecosystems protected under the EU’s Natura 2000 scheme.
The human toll is also rising as the blazes rage on. The bodies of 18 people, believed to be migrants, were recovered in the Evros region of Northern Greece on Tuesday.
The European Union has deployed its Civil Protection Mechanism, mobilising fire-fighting forces from across Europe to help their Greek counterparts.
“Important things to do still”
In spite of systematic and serious efforts for prevention and protection, “the result is not what we all would have wanted”, said Minister Kikilias.
Measures taken to upgrade the country’s response to wildfires include a national warning system, a comprehensive forest management plan, strengthening the fire-fighting forces, and facilitating requests for foreign help.
However, members of Greek opposition parties have highlighted a lack of proper implementation, as well as the evident ineffectiveness of those measures to prevent or mitigate the fires.
Officials from leftist opposition SYRIZA have made several statements denouncing the lack of preparedness of the state mechanism, and the government’s failure to fulfil its commitments in regards to forest clean-up and protection since last year’s fires.
“We still have important things to do so that the civil protection mechanism can handle the extreme situations that will continue because of the climate crisis,” Kikilias commented.
The destruction caused by the wildfires this summer raises the need for more effective prevention, protection and suppression measures.
Nikos Georgiadis, the terrestrial program coordinator at WWF Greece, told EURACTIV that better prevention measures need to be put in place in preparation for the fire season.
Forest clean-ups and sustainable logging are paramount in fire prevention plans, but weakened forestry services and a lack of initiative on behalf of municipalities hinder their implementation.
“There is know-how and human resources, but no correct planning,” Mr Georgiadis told EURACTIV.
Structural changes in how the fires are suppressed are also necessary. Strategic planning would help utilise the full potential of fire-fighting forces on the ground, with the contribution of aerial means.
Adequate response to wildfires of this scale is becoming a pressing issue as the number of firefighters in the EU decreases.
“The increased intensity of these natural disasters was to be expected as part of the growing impacts of climate change, but our disaster preparedness has not kept pace,” Kelsey Perlman, European forest campaigner at FERN, told EURACTIV.
The EU Forest Strategy lacks a monitoring system at the moment, so improved information systems and increased employment in the sector are crucial, she added.
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