In recent days we have witnessed an unspeakable disaster in many areas of Thessaly. I am referring to the consequences of the Daniel storm that hit the region in early September, followed by Elias at the end of September and preceded by the Janos storm in September 2020. The floods directly affected farms, facilities and parts of 39 settlements with a total population of over 32,000 people. They also affected the two cities of Volos and, to a much lesser extent, Larissa. Of course, there is enormous heterogeneity in the intensity and consequences of the floods and landslides.
The disaster was the result of extreme weather events and could not have been completely avoided, but could certainly have been mitigated. This was not the case for two reasons: firstly, there were omissions on the part of the government and local authorities, and secondly, it was the result of long-standing problems in Greek society, the result of processes that have been going on for decades and have created consciences, stereotypes, reactions and expectations that need to be changed.
Today, this great catastrophe is an opportunity to reflect on it, to understand its real causes and to seek a radically different path to development. In the wake of such a major disaster, there is a sense of ‘urgency’ that calls for action at two levels: the immediate and the medium- to long-term, both of which are extremely difficult to resolve. Immediate measures are needed: to house and feed the residents who cannot return to their homes, to remedy the immediate effects so that life in the area can begin to return to normal, to manage the waste and mud, and of course to provide health protection in the area. Compensation must be paid immediately to the residents to enable them to resume their homes and economic activities, but above all, some kind of ‘social wage’ must be guaranteed so that they can live in the area for the next 2-3 years.
The short term cannot protect the region from future risks so now, in the aftermath of the disaster, we need to think long term. What were the elements of vulnerability and which of them call for other options in terms of infrastructure, institutions, actions. What will be the long-term social and economic impacts and what are the side effects/risks for the region. It must be understood that the risk of upcoming impacts is major. Impacts such as abandonment such as abandonment of production, migration and even the sale of agricultural land, if of course no significant state care is taken in the right direction.
The drawing up of a ‘Medium-term Integrated Plan for the Economic and Social Development of Thessaly Valley’ must begin immediately, which will ensure the long-term resilience of the region. A reconstruction strategy needs to be developed and implemented, i.e. planning, corresponding funding, programming, implementation and monitoring/feedback. This will have a ten-year time horizon.
Comprehensive planning for the region must emerge directly through consultation with the local community, its productive stakeholders and political parties. It is the one that will allow us as an organised society to understand exactly where we are where we want to go, how we want to live and how to move in that direction. Integrated planning for the medium- to long-term development of the region requires:
- The disaster in Thessaly must be understood to have national consequences. Consequences such as in inflation, food shortages and rising food costs, an increase in the trade deficit, an increase in red loans for farmers and businesses due to the losses suffered, with consequences for the banking system and, of course, the absorption of very large funds to restore normality in the region.
- Designing and implementing policies for economic recovery that will be difficult and complex. Quick and effective measures are needed to ensure that residents stay in the area. Indeed, given that in some areas they will not be able to cultivate their fields or have enough production in the next 2-3 years at least, they will have problems with their livestock, animals and with the transport of their products, they will need to be supported with some form of “social wage”. The short-term policy and related interventions should be such as to reduce the pressure for an immediate return to the previous situation. Only in this way will it be possible to devise a long-term development strategy for reconstruction.
- Ensure that the people in their reasonable desperation do not sell their land. Thessaly’s land is in danger of being transferred from the hands of Greek farmers (small and medium-sized) to large investors, perhaps even to the portfolios of large foreign investment companies.
- To ensure that the economy of the region is not simply restored by returning to what was there, because that is what had problems. It should be recalled that Thessaly is an important region of the country both in terms of its population (6.6% of the total population) and its contribution to the country’s economic growth (it produced 5.1% of the country’s GDP). However, it has problems such as a declining and ageing population, and production of agricultural products based on subsidies, abandonment of small-scale agricultural and livestock production, etc. There should therefore be a restructuring of the region’s economic model in order to move towards the production of high value-added goods and services. There should be some kind of renegotiation/completion/overhaul of the CAP through a ‘National Plan for the Recovery of Agricultural Production in the Region of Thessaly’. This plan will allow for a shift towards the production of quality products, strengthen cooperative enterprises and other forms of producer organisation, ensure the country’s food sufficiency, etc.
- All the necessary works should be carried out to ensure the resilience of the region against environmental risks. The cost of protection through the public infrastructure system is undoubtedly infinitely less than the cost of repairing the damage. It must be understood that, in an attempt to safeguard against ‘extreme weather events’, we should not automatically be led to the construction of ‘pharaonic projects’, but that ‘nature-based solutions’ should also be exploited. That is, solutions for the protection, sustainable management and restoration of natural and modified ecosystems that effectively and adaptively address environmental and social challenges, while benefiting both people and nature.
- A new economic policy framework for the region is needed, based on production, labour and local specificities rather than consumerism and globalisation. It emphasises the dissemination of productive economic opportunities to all regions and all segments of the workforce and finally gives an important role to governments and civil society. It believes less in markets and large corporations and emphasises production, investment and the revitalisation of local communities.
- To create a body in the form of a Managing Authority that will undertake to plan and monitor the implementation of the medium-term reconstruction of Thessaly, which may take more than 10 years. This body will be responsible for the design of the Master Plan, coordination, implementation monitoring and management control. It will organise consultation with the local community – municipalities, regions, chambers of commerce, workers’ unions, etc. – in terms of multi-level governance. It will make use of technical services of ministries and regions. The body should have:
- A strong local dimension, reinforcing the current capacities of local actors, but the scale of the “project” is very large and will need support from “outside” the region.
- A strong scientific team.
- Strong political support and direct ability to intervene in planning in direct cooperation with the productive ministries.
- Large funding to be able to give aid in cooperation with the Development Bank and to be able to ensure that there will be support for the residents for the next few years when their economic activity will be very limited so that they can remain in the area and avoid its desertification or its transformation into a vast “oil field” with imported casual labourers. Aid to residents cannot be in the form of a one-off allowance only, but also in the form of a ‘social wage’ for 2-3 years.
* Report & synopsis by
Lois Labrianidis, Economic Geographer, Professor of PAMAK, former Secretary General of Private Investments, Ministry of Economy & Development, Member of the Advisory Council of the ENA Institute