Mr. Soufli strikes again
Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias started October by blaming a town planning office and his civil engineer for not having the proper permit to build one of two vacation homes. He claimed to be unaware.
He met with public officials in the area of the polluted Asopos river, and applauded measures to supply residents with clean water from another source and crack down on companies illegally dumping waste. However, he failed to address the consistent monitoring of toxins and the 50 municipalities in Ileia, where local water was polluted in the aftermath of August wildfires.
The mayors of Hellenikon, Argyroupolis, Alimos and Glyfada requested that Souflias not sell off 100 hectares of the former Hellenikon airport to developers for a purported “green fund,” with suspicions the money will be used to plug shortcomings in the budget, not for maintenance after the park is built in 2010. Souflias would not back down, decided to refuse EU funds and continued this sell-off plan originally (and ironically) drawn up by PASOK.
He quadrupled the fine on firms harming the environment from 500,000 to 2 million euros and increased the number of state inspectors from 19 to 45, but said the enforcement of fines and constant monitoring are the responsibility of local governments. Local governments claim to not have the staff or budget.
Excessive and illegal polluting of the Asopos River in northern Athens is an ongoing issue spanning several years. The water has high levels of potentially carcinogenic depleted chromium, and local residents use this as their main source. Ten manufacturers were fined and threatened with the revocation of licenses, and more offenders with secret dumping pipes will be revealed once officials conclude their investigation.
The usual suspects are behind solving this issue — bureaucracy, corruption, contradictory laws that make it difficult to enforce punishment, various people calling for studies that delay implementation and cleanup, the state blaming local government and local government blaming the state.
At the heart of the problem, Greece still has no plan and nowhere to properly dispose or treat 200,000 metric tons of industrial waste per year, thus the majority is dumped into the sea, the Asopos and several other rivers. Therefore, it doesn’t matter how many fines are imposed and paid, the real issue remains unchanged.
Residents have been promised clean water from another the Mounos River by year’s end. In the meantime, Greece has again been taken to the European High Court of Justice for not being swift in cleaning up Asopos and implementing a nationwide solution after past warnings.
A plan to divert water from the Acheloos River to Thessaly to irrigate crops was designed 24 years ago, never implemented and respective sides are still divided on benefits, detriments and long-term effects on the environment.
Reducing the water supply to a river can only upset the balance of a delicate ecosystem. Salinity, wetlands, wildlife and landscape will all be affected. With time and climate change, the sources supplying the Acheloos will be less and cause other rivers, such as one of the most polluted rivers in Europe (Pineios) to worsen.
On the other side are farmers struggling to stay afloat and a Greek economy fighting to keeps its place in the cotton trade, among others.
To see stats on the Acheloos project, click here.
Lake Koroneia is another environmental issue, brewing since 1987 when cyanobacterial toxins were found to be in excess of the World Health Organization (WHO) standard. However, the EU had set no maximum levels at that time, and Greece had no regulations in place to comply with WHO’s recommendation.
It was only until 2001 when Greece joined the EU that it could no longer claim ignorance on the issue, which was documented in past studies carried out by biologists at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in 1999-2000. At that time, Lake Kastoria was the primary focus.
Since then, Koroneia has suffered. It dried up, was part of an EC request to protect it, in EU High Court, saw nearly 30,000 birds (some protected species) and hundreds of fish die, was in EU High court again, saw more birds die this year and was sent to EU High Court again this month.
The fact oak trees are a poor form of firewood hasn’t stopped people from chopping them down for precisely that purpose, instead of leaving them to absorb carbon dioxide and to green both urban and rural areas.
Greece’s poor management of forests and the lack of a forest registry to enforce the law have aided in the reduction of forested areas from one-third to one-quarter of this country.
The reduction in forested areas has made the red deer vulnerable to night hunters and poachers, who have purportedly killed 50 since the end of August. Hunting is forbidden in burned areas of forests, and red deer are a protected species. Hunting organizations have denied these allegations.
A forestry expert has confirmed that regrowth is progressing nicely.
Photos from mensamagazine.gr (asopos and koroneia), skai.gr (soufli), in.gr (deer/parnitha)