The State of Greece: Wildfires & Flooding in 2021

In August 2021, I wrote an article titled, Wildfires Tear Through Greece, focusing on the wildfires that had been burning up acres worth of forests and homes across Greece. This article will provide an update on the situation and how extreme weather events have impacted the country.

Beginning on August 3, 2021, a number of major wildfires ravaged Greece, destroying swaths of forested mountainsides and homes. Over a 10-day period, more than 56,000 hectares had been burned according to the European Forest Fire Information System and claimed 2 lives. Additionally, 2 volunteer firefighters were hospitalized and left in critical condition.

Since August, the wildfires have claimed a total of 300,000 hectares of land, destroying homes and the livelihoods of many. The Greek Government offered homeowners and business owners up to $16.5K as a downpayment for a loan to help them in rebuilding their damaged properties. So far, the government has paid out more than $30M to over 5K beneficiaries. Unfortunately, not all sectors were covered right away, leaving resin harvesters, beekeepers, shepherds, and woodcutters without a way to make a living. Reportedly, this impacted about 800 families.

The municipality of Limni was hit particularly hard, where it is estimated to have lost 3/4 of a million fruit-bearing trees (mostly olives), 3K grazing animals, and 4K beehives. Unfortunately, in northern Evia, this accounts for the bulk of the economy, with 3.5M euros coming into the region each year from resin alone.

Figure 3 – Map of Varibobi, Limni & Strofilia

Since the beginning of this wildfire season, the people’s trust in the government has definitely taken a dive. Many feel that the government put minimal effort into putting out the fire on Evia, because of another fire that was burning in the exclusive community of Varybobi (or Varibobi) near the capital (see Figure 3). According to Limni resident and publisher Denise Harvey, “The complaint that everybody has here is that there wasn’t any help at all, because there was this fire in Varibobi near the capital, and there were important people living in those houses, big houses, and all the protection from aeroplanes was concentrated there.”

Wildfire Compensation

The result? Tradespeople living off of donations, with grassroots organizations and professional associations from all over the country are sending food, clothing, and school supplies to a roadside depot near Strofilia – smack dab in the centre of the burned area – with volunteers helping sort through goods for distribution (see Figure 3).

Many Greek citizens are unhappy with the situation, making financial demands of the government. “We have demands because this damage is the government’s fault, it’s not climate change’s fault or the weather’s fault,” said resin harvester Babis Tsivigas. “They abandoned us. We were burning for 9 days and there was no help. We want compensation for everything – olive trees, compensation for this year’s resin crop at last year’s rates, retirement for men at 55 and women at 50 because this profession is finished.

Terracing: A soil conservation practice applied to prevent rainfall-runoff on sloping land from accumulating and causing serious erosion. 

Thankfully, the government has agreed to some of the resin harvesters’ demands, such as employing them for up to 3 years, alongside woodcutters, to cut down the deadwood and create terracing on the forest floor to prevent soil erosion prior to the beginning of the November rainy season. According to Babis’ brother, Thanasis, “This area gets a lot of rain and bad weather, 1200-1800mm a year – at least 3x the rainfall in Athens. If topsoil washes away, the forest might never recover.” As well, the government is committing $82M hiring them for 7 years to “curate the forest”.

Post-Wildfire Flooding

After a summer filled with wide-scale wildfires burning across Greece, individuals and authorities in affected regions must now be prepared for flooding and mudslides. According to Dr. Kostas Lagouvardos, a research director at the National Observatory of Athens has said, “We’ve already seen unusual amounts of rain in some parts of the country. But from Thursday we expect this [new] weather system will create a very dangerous situation, especially in burned areas where the soil is already saturated and streams are overflowing.”

According to the national observatory, more than 1/3 of the damage in Greece was in northern Evia. As such, the past few weeks have been dedicated to constructing flood barriers by community members in an effort to compensate for lost forest cover. This includes authorities clearing waterbeds and people piling sandbags around their homes. Unfortunately, the storms have already hit hard, with 200 houses being reported as damaged over the span of a single weekend, with heavy rains and widespread flooding making roads unusable and sending mudslides down mountains and into the sea. As the storm reached Athens, it managed to rip masonry from the Greek Parliament building and forced a number of schools to be evacuated.

Figure 8 – Evia Mudslide

To date, the flooding has caused the drowning of many farm animals, landslides have blocked roads, schools and public services have closed, and the body of a farmer was found by rescue crews after his car was carried away by floodwaters.

Conclusion

Greece has been impacted by extreme weather events and natural hazards more than many other countries in 2021. The wildfires that occurred from coast to coast were some of the worst the country has ever experienced, and the aftermath of this is poorly defendable land. Now that the country is entering its rainy season, its authorities and citizens must move quickly and implement all the defence tactics they can before it’s too late. Without a doubt, 2021 has been a devastating year for the country.

We will be providing updates on the situation as it continues. To learn more in the meantime, see our article, Wildfires Tear Through Greece.

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