Wildfire Assistance to Greece Part of Larger U.S. Effort

Wildfire Assistance to Greece Part of Larger U.S. Effort

12 September 2007

published by usinfo.state.gov

Washington, USA — The United States has rushed humanitarian assistance to Greece to help it recover from disastrous wildfires as part of a broader effort to support countries in distress.

“Wherever there are friends and allies that suffer disasters such as this [in Greece] we always try to look at how we can be helpful,” says Kurt Volker, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe at the U.S. State Department.

Even before the August 25 state-of-emergency declaration in Greece, U.S. Navy sailors and civilian firefighters joined efforts to put out fires in Western Crete on two occasions, according to the U.S. Embassy in Athens. The governor’s office of Chania asked a U.S. naval base in the area for assistance when the fire was threatening a nearby village.

After August 25 the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) offered $700,000 in emergency funds and commodities to the Hellenic Red Cross and $1.2 million in protective gear for firefighters and technical assistance to the government.

In addition, members of Greek-American communities have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and emergency supplies to Greece’s fire-ravaged regions.

Volker noted that Greece, a prosperous, developed country and a member of the European Union, normally would not qualify for U.S. assistance. But in extraordinary circumstances such as natural disasters it does not matter whether a country is poor or rich, he told USINFO.

“Countries pitch in and help out where they can,” Volker said.

The U.S. government also has looked at how it can help Greece cope with damages caused by the disaster.  A six-person U.S. team, which included firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service, went to the country in September to provide direct assistance and advice on fire management, emergency management systems, fire investigation, burnt area rehabilitation, and watershed and ecosystem restoration.

Ky Lu, director of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, said the team will come up with a work plan to address Greece’s specific needs for capacity building and medium- and long-term technical assistance. The plan is likely to focus on the question of how the United States can help put back in place olive groves, vineyards and orchards ravaged by the fires.

“Agriculture is so important to rural life in Greece that we want to try to help as much as we can,” Volker said.

More than 60 people died and more than 100,000 have been affected by the wildfires in Greece. Also, a large number of homes, hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of forests and plantations and parts of infrastructure were destroyed or damaged by the disaster, according to the Hellenic Red Cross.

In 2005, the United States was part of the international effort to help Portugal contain wildfires.  The same year the United States itself received international humanitarian assistance when Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana and other Gulf states.

In 2006, USAID responded to 74 emergencies in 55 countries where more than 150 million people were affected by natural disasters, according to USAID.

Transcripts of briefings by USAID officials on the fires in Greece andmore information on U.S. humanitarian assistance to Greece and other countries are available on USAID’s Web site.

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