The Guardian 5 September, 2007

Land policy responsible for fires in Greece

The devastating bush fires in Greece have already claimed 63 lives and destroyed many homes and other property. The Greek Government is coming in for strident criticism and large demonstrations have been held across Greece in angry protests. Fire-fighting equipment was dangerously inadequate and the land policies of the governments of both major Greek political parties contributed to the disaster.

In a strong statement the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Greece, Aleka Papariga called on the people to contribute to the task of combatting the fires sweeping the country, and repeated that its members and organisations were completely at the disposal of the local authorities, agencies and officials, to participate in the fire-fighting efforts, support the inhabitants and contribute to any problems they can.

Regarding the cause of the fires, Aleka Papariga said that these had not arisen suddenly but were created over many years by a series of reactionary laws and measures taken by the successive governments of the ruling New Democracy and main opposition PASOK parties. She said that since 1991, only one-eleventh of burned forests were reforested in Attica and one-ninth in Greece.

Aleka Papariga said that the road to the present inferno was opened by a policy that commercialised land and forests, rewarded land grabbers, undermined prevention and created a huge deficits in equipment, infrastructure and facilities for fire-fighting and forest protection services. Even the country’s Constitution had been revised regarding the protection of forests.

"We are faced with an organised plan", she noted and added that the profits from arsons primarily benefited large economic interests whose "appetite is opened by land commercialisation and privatisation".

Government responsibility

According to the Communist Party statement the government bears huge responsibilities for failing to put up an effective, organised response that might have mitigated the repercussions of the disaster, through prevention and forest protection measures.

Aleka Papariga also said that the social democratic party PASOK seeks only to cover up its own responsibilities and to benefit from the justified popular unrest at the polls.

Aleka Papariga called for:

  • a full and in-depth listing of the destruction wrought and the areas burnt without any changes in land use

  • full compensation to farmers for lost crops and livestock

  • one year’s exemption from insurance contributions and taxes and a freeze on loan payments

  • full compensation for burnt homes and farm infrastructure, detailed and binding plans for reforestation

  • free housing for fire victims in nearby hotels

  • immediate hiring for vacant positions in the fire brigade, forestry services and national health service with permanent rather than seasonal staff, and

  • work to limit subsequent damage from erosion, flooding etc.

    She also demanded that the big private properties on mountains and in forests be turned into public property.

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