The forest fires that broke out in Greece in the past few days are nothing less than heart-breaking. The situation is distressing not only for the Greek people, for anyone who can bear a little compassion for others and possibly cares a fraction about nature. Watching the television images seeing households and entire villages in flames, generates uncontainable sadness. As television and media channels deliver a continuous stream of pictures and reports, we’ve all became witnesses to an ecological and social catastrophe of biblical proportions. What captivates me is the determination, effort and grit of firemen, volunteers and residents as they fight against harsh elements.
The general feeling amongst the population seems to be anger and disgust. People are angry with the State’s inadequacy to respond properly to the perils. Revolted against a political system that for decades has failed to protect them. During so hard-hitting hours such reactions are fully understandable. Emotions are high, the level of stress is on peak and passions raised up. I do recognise that is neither the time to pass blame nor to determine culpability. On the other hand, for me, I cannot withdraw without joining on the public debate about these events.
Incompetence and futility are unacceptable
Following the happenings closely, I cannot help but try to understand how has the situation gone so bad? It is hard not to query which factors “powered” such tragedy, allowing it to evolve to gigantic extent? Greece is a modern European nation, not an undeveloped location. Therefore, I cannot accept so enormous incompetence and futility, including State incapacity to respond effectively to this test.
Similarly, using ‘Climate Change’ as an apology to defend ‘uselessness’, in my mind is an extremely lame excuse, used by the Greek administration and others. Greece has been affected by many wild fires in the past and authorities have vast experience, including the deadly 2018 in Mati and the 2007 disasters. The European Union itself has ample knowledge on the subject too. In 2008, the European Parliament issued a relevant study – Forest Fires: Causes and Contributing factors in Europe – offering a selection of recommendations. Were these recommendations sufficiently implemented by Greece? It is something that needs to be carefully checked. For now, George Santayana’s words come in my mind “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Likewise, high temperatures are not a new phenomenon. Since my childhood, growing up in Piraeus, I can vividly remember hot summers and heatwaves all over the Mediterranean basin. We all lived with this constant threat and high alertness. Unlike now though, we felt somehow safer then.
Ministries failed to prepare
It is significant that for last week’s occurrences, a lot of evidence shows these fires started either deliberately or by carelessness. For the motives, perhaps we never find out. I do not pretend by any means to have the expertise or qualifications to reliably explain the situation. Nevertheless, my research shows that such fires start through industrial sabotage, pyromania, retaliation and even negligence, planned disruption and/or even from work malpractices. Hence, I do accept that it is nearly impossible to anticipate acts of this kind. Then again, as a professional person, I have learned that contingency planning and business continuity are two key chapters of successful preparation. In my opinion, this is the part where Greek Ministries have failed.
What this disaster reveals are a range of State deficiencies, shortages and organizational defects. Civil defence and municipalities seem to be totally unprepared. Whichever technique the government uses to justify how they managed the situation; to see the national civil protection system crippled is rather indefensible. A plethora of clear-cut claims and firm declarations from front-line firefighters and residents point to poor planning and shortfalls within all operational departments. These include, broken-down water hydrants, lack of appliances, limited manpower, inadequate aerial support etc.
Greek people must rid of politics from everyday life
My view is that for a very long time, consecutive governments have been apathetic, corrupted and spoiled. Tolerated by the Greek people, politicians have acted only on personal gains and ‘toeing the party line’. As result, a gathering of long-term negligence is reflected during this particular calamity. Greece has a political system that survived for decades through public naivety and gullibility.
Having said that, for decades the majority of Greek people voted for governments using erroneous criteria. They voted by looking through ‘party-tinted’ glasses, for politicians who they believed would deliver favours to them or their families. Therefore, where does the responsibility lies in terms of state incompetence? The matter is open to interpretation?
As a peripheral observer, I note that unless Greek people rid of politics from their everyday life, State-management will continue to be incompetent. Yet, I am convinced that the events will lead to a political earthquake. I predict that the socio-political scenery will change radically in the coming months. For future reference, in order for public services to avoid tragedies, I recommend to adopt James Howell’s proverb: “All we can do is be better prepared today than yesterday and better prepared tomorrow than today”
Undoubtedly, these fires will inflict major social, economic and ecological wounds to Greece. I anticipate that having lost their homes and witnessed their communities destroyed, people will share deep emotional problems for very long. The wider environment throughout Greece has been seriously damaged in just a few days. It is hard to determine what the consequences will be for industries, services and the society. Will fast conservation management and restoration programmes come quickly? This is something that we have to wait and see.