ATHENS – Killer floods in November, 2017 that took the lives of 24 people west of the capital have led the government to accelerate long-delayed plans to fix urban drainage networks that geologists said were to blame for letting waters back up.
A scheme to upgrade the system was unveiled Feb. 7 by Interior Minister Panos Skourletis, Environment Minister Sokratis Famelos, Alternate Economy Minister Alexis Haritsis and the head of the country’s Union of Municipalities and Communities (KEDE), Giorgos Patoulis with an announcement it would be done by 2020.
More than half of small towns in Greece lack adequately functioning drainage, the ministers told a news conference, noting that of 385 towns with between 2,000 and 15,000 residents, only the drainage systems of 148 meet the minimum standard stipulated by European Union regulations, they added.
A total of 169 towns have been earmarked for EU structural funding for drainage works. Work has already begun in 92 of them – in some cases it has not been completed due to delays caused by land expropriations and archaeological excavations, Kathimerini said.
In total, 916 million euros ($1.112 billion) in state and EU funding has been set aside for upgrading drainage systems across the country where necessary, Haritsis said.
Floods west of Greece’s capital in November that killed 24 people were an “Act of God,” caused by heavy rain but made worse by successive governments allowing unlawful building that prevented runoff, causing a rampage of water through towns, a report found.
The probe by the General Inspector for Public Administration said a series of oversights that shouldn’t have happened were mainly responsible for the loss of life, backing what geologists and critics said after the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA said that wasn’t so.
Dozens of people were injured and there was significant property damage into the hundreds of thousands of euros with the report saying that despite the rains that, “This in no way justifies the absence of flood prevention works … that may not have radically solved the problem but would have made the situation more manageable,” Kathimerini reported on the findings.
The report said there was repeated failure over the years by state, regional and local authorities to curb or reverse illegal construction, instead only fining those who did it to bring in money instead of fixing the problems that clogged streams of Soures and Aghia Ekaterini, which channel rainwater down the foothills of Mount Pateras into the Gulf of Elefsina.
It also stressed that a municipal vehicle depot – where several bodies were found buried under deep mud after being carried away in the torrent – violated zoning codes and contributed to the devastation. No one has been blamed or punished.
The agency’s inspectors said the Forestry Department was especially guilty of failing to carry out plans for rerouting the Aghia Ekaterini stream so that it would not pass through the middle of the town.