Thursday, August 30, 2007

The political ecology of disaster in Greece

Climate Ark, via EurActiv: This summer's forest fires in Greece are an "ecological and environmental crisis" and highlight "deep flaws" in the contemporary Greek political and social landscape, writes Chronis Polychroniou for Open Democracy. The nation now faces an "ecological nightmare" that will condemn Greece’s current and future generations to "inhuman" conditions, adds Polychroniou.

The article describes fires raging through the centre and south of the country that had killed 63 people – and injured scores more – as of 26 August, in a crisis that has been escalating since late June. Meanwhile, entire villages and cultivated landscapes have been obliterated, not to mention the "130 different kinds of birds, 45 different types of mammals […] and 30 different types of amphibians and reptiles" that Polychroniou claims perished during one day of the Mount Parnitha fire alone.

Polychroniou labels the official response to the crisis "inefficient" and "dilatory", revealing "poorly trained" public administration staff, a political elite which "caters to the needs of its financial patrons", serious bickering between the leading parties and a "disillusioned and cynical" citizenry.

Moreover, he describes the responses of the prime minister, Kostas Karamanlis, and public-order minister, Byron Polydoras, as "unconvincing" and "hapless", pointing to the failure to deploy the armed forces even as ancient Olympia was threatened – due to what he calls "a lack of government coordination".

For Polychroniou, the crisis is thus a "civic and political disaster" as well as an environmental one. He claims that the Greek state is "visibly ill-equipped to cope", highlighting the lack of a long-term forest restoration and ecological management plan and its dependence on technical assistance from EU partners.

Polychroniou concludes that Greece is facing a "pivotal moment" in its history which it must address if it is to avoid "regression". He claims that the Greek government has shown a "lack of political will" - and lacks the "governing capacity" - to deal with the fires. Labelling the crisis "a true Greek tragedy", he claims that the nation is in "dire need of bold, new, courageous leadership" and requires "a sea-change" in its approach to the environment if it is to avoid "ecological collapse".

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