Greece is stepping up its efforts to fight wildfires, hiring extra specialised firefighters and planes and rising spending within the wake of final 12 months’s devastating blazes that destroyed 1.3mn hectares of woodland.
As the nation braced itself for an additional scorching summer season, Christos Stylianides, appointed as Greece’s first minister for local weather disaster and civil safety final September, is prepared for his preparations to be examined in one of many local weather disaster hotspots of the jap Mediterranean.
The authorities has earmarked greater than €152mn this 12 months for additional firefighting plane and the cleansing and upkeep of woodlands, a determine considerably larger than earlier years. The quantity does but not embrace staff’ salaries.
“Last summer we experienced unprecedented high temperatures which resulted in fires of 600 degrees Celsius,” Stylianides advised the Financial Times. “[It] showed us in the harshest way that we have to change the way we deal with natural disasters.”
The Cypriot was picked by Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and given Greek nationality in order that he might tackle the nation’s largely poor file in dealing with such crises.
The destruction of swaths of land by wildfires is a mounting concern throughout southern Europe, which has develop into extra weak because of local weather change.
Before becoming a member of the Greek authorities Stylianides served because the European commissioner for humanitarian help and disaster administration, answerable for upgrading the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism to enhance the bloc’s catastrophe response efforts. At the identical time, he served because the EU’s head co-ordinator main the bloc’s response to the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa.
“Summer will be tough,” Stylianides warned, talking this month after a wildfire near Athens that destroyed 432.2 hectares of land was contained by firefighters.
Stronger heatwaves and longer, drier summers are inflicting extra intense fires that transfer sooner and are a lot more durable to extinguish. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, 80 per cent of burnt land in Europe is in Mediterranean international locations. Greece suffered about 65 simultaneous forest fires a day final August, with common temperatures usually exceeding 40C.
Four years in the past in Mati, a coastal city close to Athens, 102 folks died from a wildfire; it was the world’s second-deadliest wildfire this century.
Soon after, an official inquiry really helpful the Greek authorities ought to take away bureaucratic obstacles and permit totally different companies to work collectively on clearing forests in winter to forestall fires. It additionally discovered that Greece spent much more on hearth suppression than prevention, and referred to as on the state to improve its hearth prevention system.
Three years later Stylianides was confronted with the identical challenges: a plethora of usually contradictory legal guidelines and unclear division of obligations between municipalities, prefectures and varied ministries making it troublesome to even discover who ought to take the lead in time of disaster.
“There is such an overlap of responsibilities that complicates a lot the decision-making process,” he stated, lamenting the bureaucratic labyrinth of the Greek public sector.
Stylianides stated he additionally needed to deal with an understaffed and ageing hearth division that had low morale and a small finances. Five hundred “forest commandos” with specialised coaching in combating wildfires have been taken on this summer season by the fireplace division and can function within the forests all 12 months spherical.
Greece may even improve its plane fleet with 86 planes obtainable this summer season in contrast with 74 final 12 months.
Stylianides stated he had targeted totally on hearth prevention. With €50mn from the EU’s Covid pandemic restoration fund, Greece’s finances for forest administration and clean-up this 12 months is eight instances larger than earlier years. “We are increasing a lot of forest patrols and for the first time we are involving the army and volunteers,” he added.
Believing that the local weather disaster requires a joint European response, Stylianides has pushed for the implementation of a pilot venture the place Greece will host about 250 firefighters from six European international locations to offer help in the course of the crucial summer season months. Funded by the European Commission, the scheme is being trialled in Greece and will quickly be rolled out to different EU international locations.
In the previous, when in search of help, Greece needed to undergo a time-consuming process, usually shedding essential days initially of a fireplace earlier than assist arrived.
The plan is that, in return, Greek firefighters shall be despatched in the course of the winter months to assist out international locations within the north coping with floods and different disasters.
“Nobody can deal with these devastating fires alone any more,” stated Stylianides. “In our days it goes beyond national capacity.”
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