In case you’ve been living under a rock, my father’s country of birth (Greece) has massive fires raging all around Athens which have killed 63 people in just the last few days. Now, I don’t want anyone to take any of the comments I’m about to make the wrong way. I love Greece, and the Greek people. We are family.
But being that the ancient Greeks invented democracy, I’m going to exercise a little free speech here and tell you a few reasons I have little sympathy for the problems now being faced.
EDIT: Thanks to Eric for finding this photo from NASA which demonstrates the scale of the current problem. The full size image (1 MB) is here, but the version I’ve uploaded is much smaller and quicker so select the image to see it.
First of all, the fires around Parnitha are no surprise whatsoever. You see, there is a law in Greece that prohibits anyone from cutting down trees. The law is overly strict, so for years people have been getting around it by “accidentally” setting fire to an area.
Here is a little quote from the Financial Times:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You could say that sparks from electricity pylons cause about 20 per cent of fires and human error another 20 per cent. The remainder are set deliberately, usually to clear land for development,Ã¢â‚¬Â said a recently retired official.
While Greece requires burned forest areas to be immediately replanted, develÃ‚Âopers have few problems in finding a way round the law. Burned areas are re-classified by local officials as farmland that can be sold for development.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Because of the lack of political will to implement the law, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s easy to build on forest land,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Theodota Nantsou, policy co-ordinator in Greece for WWF, the conservation agency. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Ahead of an election, for example, thousands of illegal buildings suddenly become legal.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Fast-growing demand for second homes, driven by north Europeans as well as Greeks, has increased pressure for development of forests, especially in the Peloponnese and near Athens.
Alexia Papadakis, a real estate agent, said the island of Evia is a prime target for developers because of its proximity to Athens and improved transport connections. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Sadly, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no surprise that there is a big fire on Evia,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said.
GreeceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s next government would come under pressure to complete a much-delayed land registry, establish a separate registry of forest areas, and strengthen the forestry service, Ms Nantsou said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“As a tourist country Greece needs year-round fire-prevention measures,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said.
So, let’s say you have some land with trees on it and you want to build a house on it. Well, an accidental fire will clear the property and then you can start construction the next day. This is so common that no one blinks an eye, and arson is never, ever investigated.
So, it was only a matter of time before something like this happened. And now everyone is going to whine as if they can’t believe it? No, you knew this was coming, but no one bothered to try to prevent it by either enforcing or changing the existing law which prohibits the removal of trees.
Secondly, there are some serious problems with getting the firefighting gear through some of the streets of Athens, often because of illegal parking. Well, guess what?!? Some stricter enforcement of the laws would prevented this issue and saved both lives and property!
In the end, as much as I love Greece and the Greek people, this was an ticking time bomb. The government over there is corrupt and inept, law enforcement is a joke, and outdated laws are simply ignored as people break the rules any time they see fit as if they simply “don’t apply to me”.
Here are a few videos that show what the people are dealing with right now:
And here is a view from the air:
Just imagine the wave of respiratory problems that people are going to be facing for some time to come as a result of this, not to mention the massive negative impact to tourism in a country where it’s their number one source of income…