A year after Greek wildfires, locals have learned a skeptical lesson – POLITICO

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ISTIAIA, Greece — The pungent smell of scorched land still hangs in the air over Avia, and despite promises of economic renewal, nearly a year after devastating wildfires, a sense of dismay among locals remains.

Between black pines and oaks, standing firm like matches as far as the eye can see, nature is beginning to heal the island’s apocalyptic approach. Beneath the blackened carcasses, a thick green carpet is growing, including plants that will one day restore the wild landscape.

But though life has begun to return, locals have little hope that the grand promises of economic regeneration made after the fires will be fulfilled in full. And he has even less confidence that his government has learned what it should do to prevent such disasters in the future.

The ongoing threat is clear. Earlier this month, firefighters struggled to contain another fire that was raging in the center of Avia. Cremasto, a village of about 150 inhabitants, had to be evacuated.

And beyond Greece, early summer heat across Europe has fueled wildfires in Germany, where about 20 villages had to vacate Berlin and the south of Spain, where more than 600 firefighters fought with a fire In the Sierra de la Culebra mountain range.

Back on Avia, Greece’s second largest island, the blaze of fire is still raw.

“There’s still a lot of anger and fury,” said Vagelis Georgonzis, head of the resin producers union, who spoke to Politico after the fire in August 2021.

“It’s hard to imagine what happened, they let the fire burn until it reached the sea. I wake up in the morning and for a moment I still hope to see the forest, and then the reality unfolds.” ensues—and despair and resentment,” he added.

In the wake of the destruction, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis vowed to “make Northern Avia better and more beautiful” and promised hundreds of millions of euros for reconstruction.

Next month the Georgegantzis will begin work on deforestation, flood protection and other projects in the forest along with some 700 resin producers. The 7-year government program was due to start in January and has been delayed, while no specific training has yet been designed for workers.

But although the restoration program is welcome, as well as the fact that it is going to last longer than initially expected, he is still concerned about the long-term future. Some young colleagues who had no family have already left the island. “If they stayed here until they were 35 or 40 they would be as spoiled as us,” Georgetzis said.

Government compensation for fire damage has also been inconsistent, due to the fact that many local farmers and herders did not have the necessary licenses or paperwork. “I haven’t received a single euro from the state,” said 61-year-old shepherd Michaelis Tchatsoglu, who is one of the lucky few who managed to save his animals – although shacks to shelter the animals were destroyed And their land was scorched. ,

“He promised to give paisa, paisa, ton paisa. where are they? They say my hut wasn’t made of bricks [so wasn’t eligible] … they left us.

Also part of the economic revival effort was a five-day film festival earlier this month, as well as subsidies for tourism. There is also promise of several infrastructure projects, including a 56-kilometre road that will end its isolation through the northern part of the island.

But Istiya city mayor Yiannis Kontzias says the municipality has not received any cash yet and therefore projects are yet to begin. “The island is basically at war and we have to act fast. The reconstruction plan is in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go to make it a reality.

“It is perfectly logical for every mayor to express concern, to address the problems in local communities in the best possible way,” government spokesman Giannis Oikonomo said in response. prior criticism of the mayor State’s response.

“Often, in expressing this concern, exaggerations and inappropriate things are heard. It is both exaggerated and unfair that not a single euro has fallen on Avia or North Avia,” he said, pointing out that the government has already allocated €300 million.

And experts argue that Greece is not doing enough to prevent future tragedies. a WWF Report It was found that 84 percent of the state’s expenditure goes to fighting forest fires, while only 16 percent is spent on prevention.

With the prospect of a long hot summer ahead, communities still feel vulnerable. “We are burnt and we want the rest of the country not to burn,” said Kontzias. “What happened in Avia should be a lesson to all.”

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