Athens, Greece — The government of Greece unveiled a plan Monday to help rehabilitate areas ravaged by last summer’s forest fires. The 645.7 million (US$946.7 million) plan aims to restore the natural habitat and help people in rural areas who suffered economically. The costs will be covered by the government and European Union programs.
The plan includes anti-erosion measures and extensive replanting of burnt areas in seven prefectures _ Arcadia, Achaia, Ilia, Corinth, Laconia and Messinia in southern Greece and the eastern island of Evia. Nearly 70 people died in hundreds of blazes that swept the country in late August, including the area around Ancient Olympia in the western Peloponnese. The archaeological location, a World Heritage site, was narrowly spared. The plan, said Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Alexandros Kontos, involved a «huge effort … not to leave behind those people who lost nearly everything» in the fires. «Our objective was and is to restore their lives as quickly as possible, as well as or better than they were before the catastrophe,» Kontos said. About 160 scientists at universities in Athens and Thessaloniki and from the World Wildlife Fund’s Greek chapter took part in the study.
The fires overshadowed September’s parliamentary elections, in which the conservatives were returned to office with a reduced majority. The government weathered intense criticism over its handling of the calamity, including allegations that the initial response had been slow and prior planning had been poor. Over 147,000 hectares (364,000 acres) of forest land and 24,000 hectares (60,000 acres) of olive groves were destroyed, along with tens of thousands of farm animals. And more than 223,000 hectares (551,000 acres) remain at serious risk of erosion, according to the report, which was unveiled even as severe floods hit parts of Greece, including some of the fire-hit areas of the Peloponnese. Also Monday, Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias said licenses to repair hundreds of damaged or destroyed houses would be issued within the next two months, with funds paid out in three installments.