LARISSA – As government officials are still trying to calculate losses from massive flooding that covered much of Greece’s agricultural heartland of Thessaly, scientists were also assessing how much human negligence made it worse.
Farmers on the forested slopes of Mount Pilion, which overlooks the plain of Thessaly, say they face millions of euros in damage from the flooding – the government said the overall total could pass 2.25 billion euros ($2.41 billion.)
The European Union said it would provide emergency subsidies of essentially the full amount now assessed, although it could continue to rise as the waters receded and as much as 25 percent of Thessaly’s land could now be useless.
As bad as the damage suffered by the Pilion farmers was, their peers in the plain were hit by even greater devastation from floods that left 17 people dead, days after wildfires killed 20 people in northeastern Greece.
The storms flooded 720 square kilometers (280 square miles) of mostly prime farmland, ruining crops, swamping hundreds of buildings, breaking the country’s railway backbone, savaging rural roads and bridges, and killing 20,000 animals.
Thessaly – a major farming center for thousands of years – accounts for about 5 percent of national economic output, and a much larger proportion of agricultural produce, although much of that is now cotton and tobacco.
Greece, which returned to fiscal health after an eight-year financial crisis that shook global markets, is now assessing the staggering cost of the flooding.
Finance Minister Kostis Hatzidakis said the precise sum remains elusive.
“But … we’re talking in the billions (of euros),” he told private Antenna TV, adding that the center-right government is drafting a supplementary state budget of about 600 million euros ($643 million) for immediate funding needs.
The government has also promised speedy compensation to thousands of people whose houses were flooded and who lost livestock and farm machinery. The loss of nearly 90,000 sheep, goats, pigs, and cows has been registered so far, along with more than 120,000 poultry.
In the village of Zagora on Pilion, farming union leader Thodoris Georgadakis urged authorities to mend the passable roads leading to local orchards where apples are awaiting harvesting.
“The cost of the storms could exceed 10 million euros ($10.7 million) for apple farmers alone,” he told The Associated Press. “We expect this harvest to reach 6,500 tons, down from 22,000 in a normal year. That’s only if the roads are mended soon.”
THE WEIGHT OF WATER
A study about global heating that included a Greek severe weather analyst said that while climate change was a factor in Greece’s deadly floods that wiped out a big chunk of its agricultural heartland, the human factor was just as strong.
Carbon pollution led to heavier rains and stronger floods in Greece and Libya, but the report said the failure to have anti-flood or mitigating measures in place made the catastrophes even worse.
Global heating made rainfall that devastated the Mediterranean in early September up to 50 times more likely in Libya and up to 10 times more likely in Greece, said the study by World Weather Attribution that used established methods but were not peer-reviewed, said the British newspaper The Guardian.
The group of scientists and researchers who jump into examining extreme weather events found that people become more vulnerable by building homes on floodplains, chopping down trees, and not maintaining dams.
“The Mediterranean is a hotspot of climate-change-fueled hazards,” said Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College London and co-author of the report that pointed out the fatal combination of nature and humans.
While researchers found it harder to quantify the role of climate change in this study than they did for recent wildfires and heat waves, she added, “there is absolutely no doubt that reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience to all types of extreme weather is paramount for saving lives in the future.”
In Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey, the rains were up to 40 percent heavier because of global heating, the scientists found, the paper said, the rains that fell generally seen only once in a decade or longer.
In the central Greece region of Thessaly, where most of the damage took place, such an event could be expected every 80-100 years, and was so severe it was likened to a Biblical-era catastrophe.
Vassiliki Kotroni, a Research Director at the National Observatory of Athens and co-author, described the floods as a “breaking point,” urging early warning systems and “design of resilient infrastructures in the era of climate change.”
Changes to the landscape made the Greek floods more damaging, the report found, urbanization and deforestation resulting in less nature to soak up storm waters that flooded homes.
While the New Democracy government was charged by political rivals and critics with not ensuring that anti-flood measures were carried out at the local level, it blamed municipalities – and there’s no accounting of where 240 million euros ($257 million) went – spent on other projects or pocketed.