During August, wildfires burned 1,700,000 acres of forest and villages. The wildfire in Evros, northern Greece, was characterized by the European agency Copernicus as “the largest recorded on European soil in years.” A few weeks later hurricane Daniel left 720.000 acres of land flooded.
Fifteen deaths have been reported so far and an unknown number of people are still missing. We will probably never know the number of dead migrants and refugees who worked in the fields in the affected Thessaly region, since they don’t have families in Greece looking for them.
The economic impact is huge. Houses, businesses, whole city parts and villages were destroyed. The Thessalian plain is buried under tons of mud and will not be able to be cultivated again for 5 years, according to initial estimates. Thessaly accounts for 5% of Greek GDP and around a quarter of its livestock and agricultural production.
The state machine proved completely incapable to respond to the crisis. It was not able to effectively organize the evacuation of the villages and cities in danger nor was it able to rescue the next day all the flood victims. 9 days later there are still people trapped on the second floor or on the roof of their houses; there are still whole villages cut off from the rest of the country. The government proved incapable of even providing on time the basic necessities to the victims. Not even bottled water, although it is clear in all civil protection protocols worldwide that floods are followed by waterborne diseases. Water supply networks and sewage networks are damaged or completely destroyed in the affected areas and water is contaminated by waste water and sewage, dead animals, agrochemicals and many other types of industry waste.
The government is once again blaming the disaster on climate change and the extreme rainfall. Indeed, climate change is beginning to show its teeth. Precipitation was extreme – 700, 800 or even 900 tons of rain per acre! However they knew such floods were bound to come.
Climate change is not something new. Mitsotakis government has even set up a climate crisis Ministry! The government officials know very well in which ways climate crisis threatens people’s lives, especially the poorer layers of society and how it affects infrastructure, wildlife and the economy in general.
In the case of hurricane Daniel, the National Observatory had issued a warning on Sunday, August 30, that a Category 5 hurricane was heading to Thessaly and that precipitation could be as high as 500 tons of rain per acre. The next morning, the National Observatory issued a new warning predicting 700 tons of rain per acre. Yet the government didn’t do anything.
When the hurricane was in Thessaly the authorities issued a warning for people to stay indoors. They asked people to stay in those houses that were flooded up to their roofs! In some cases the flood swept away even whole buildings! Evacuation alert messages came very late when the storm was well underway. In many cases people received the alert messages after their villages had already flooded and they were trapped.
The government knew which areas would be affected by floods
As Theodota Nantsou, the head of WWF in Greece, points out, the flood risk maps for Thessaly in the event of extreme rainfall have been published on the website of the Ministry of the Environment since 2018. They predict floods in the areas that were indeed flooded by hurricane Daniel.
But the government did not invest in new infrastructure and policies that would minimize the risks nor did they build civil protection mechanism that could respond to such a crisis – which, we repeat, they knew would come at some point. Greek government never complied with the EU directive that demanded adaptation respective flood control infrastructure and policies since 2007.
The government did not only know the flood risk in Thessaly only in theory.
In 2020, large areas of Thessaly were flooded by hurricane Ianos. At that time, Mitsotakis promised that flood control infrastructure would be rebuilt and strengthened so that such a disaster could never happen again. 3 years later, the toll is much greater.
Similar promises were made in 1994, when a hurricane turned villages with thousands of people literally into lakes.
In the past decade the government and local officials spent millions of euros on beautification projects in order to lure voters. They never really invested in modernizing critical infrastructure such as flood prevention projects. And when millions of euros were paid to construction companies to rebuild or repair flood prevention projects they pocketed the money and rebuilt the bridges, the damns etc with the same weaknesses and faults, without any new evaluations and studies. Contractors and establishment politicians are getting rich while ordinary people are buried under tons of mud.
- Free food and bottled water for all affected people immediately.
- Free accommodation in hotels and benefits for people whose homes have become uninhabitable.
- A price ceiling on food. Do not let speculators turn the destruction of the Thessaly plain into an opportunity to raise food prices again.
- The state must employ crews of workers from both the public and the private sector to clean up the affected towns and villages (clean the mud, dispose of the tens of thousands dead animals, ect), following of course all protective protocols and measures. The cost of this works should be covered by taxing the big construction companies, i.e. the companies who made millions of euros in profits, building projects that collapsed like houses of cards.
- Mayors, regional government officials and members of parliament of the ruling parties elected in the affected areas must face criminal charges.
- All workers and small business owners should receive enough compensation money to repair/rebuild and re-equip their homes and workplaces. The money should come from the taxation of large private companies and the 79,000 millionaires that exist in Greece.
- Build flood prevention projects based on extreme rainfall risk maps and modern science. These should include respecting the natural flow of water and restoring streams and rivers to their natural form, reforestation, using water-permeable materials in roads, pavements, squares, building mountain hydronomic works etc.
The government and the local authorities will only do a fragment of the above unless we force them through mass movements. We need to build mass movements on both a local and on a central level to demand that the rich pay for this crisis and for the infrastructure and policies needed to protects people’s lives and nature from such extreme weather events in the future.
At the same time, we should support each other through solidarity campaigns. We should organize volunteer groups and solidarity committees to care for the immediate needs, where the state machine proves incapable to do so. Xekinima has launched a campaign to collect basic necessities for the people affected by the flood in the city of Volos.
One thing is certain. Government policies will continue leading to huge wildfires in the summer, floods in winter and state murders such as the recent train crash in Tempi and the shipwreck in Pylos. The only way to stop these plagues is to organize politically into a movement that can overthrow the government and the capitalist system as a whole, building a socialist society of real democracy, equality and solidarity.