ATHENS – Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ acknowledgement there there were problems in dealing with hundreds of simultaneous wildfires across Greece in the summer of 2021 – and other years – didn’t reveal the extent of the mismanagement, showed a report by the environmental group WWF.
The organization said there were management failures in the handling of fire prevention funds and a need for better oversight to deal with periodic outbreaks of widespread blazes across the country, many previously deemed arson so that land could be cleared for development.
The study covered the period from 2016-20 and showed governments spent 778 million euros ($807.50 million) putting out fires and only 189 million euros ($196.17 million) trying to prevent them.
This meant that authorities used more than 80 percent of their resources fighting fires and less than 20 percent preventing them, said Kathimerini in a report on the findings and their meaning.
The study also showed that just under 50 percent of funding available for fire prevention at the local level via the EU’s National Strategic Reference Framework (ESPA in Greek) was absorbed and there was poor reporting on funding use.
WWF also noted the absence of a centralized mechanism that is responsible for overseeing firefighting funds and tracking how they are spent, as an annual assessment of how each fire season was managed, the paper said.
“We do not have an exact estimate at the national level of the resources poured into prevention and fire-fighting and this obviously creates problems in planning and in evaluating the system,” Elias Tziritis, from WWF’s Nature Policy Department told the paper.
The report also noted that in the past 20 years, the number of staff employed in the Forestry Service has dropped by 53 percent, while funding to the agency has fallen markedly, by 80 percent.
“The fires of the past few years showed us the limitations and failures of the fire-fighting mechanism and also demonstrated the importance of prevention,” said Panayiota Marangou, who is responsible for WWF’s environmental protection programs.