But first those who bear the political responsibility for the road accidents at the Baths of Aphrodite must be held to account
By Maria Hadjimichael
Following the tragic accident near the Baths of Aphrodite on the Akamas Peninsula on August 8, the head of the community council of Neo Chorio, Andreas Christodoulou, asked for the intervention of the attorney-general so that those responsible for the accident would be held accountable.
The death of 59-year-old Sebagh Gerald Andre and the serious injury of his 20-year-old daughter at the well-known hazardous spot, reignites the debate about the future of the public footpath and forest road within the Akamas National Forest Park.
What must we bear in mind if we discuss the issue of accountability and political responsibility for what happened on that road?
The local authorities are demanding that the road be widened and a safety barrier installed. Though this might sound like a logical demand to the wider public, all those who have been involved in the discussions regarding the ‘Plan for the Sustainable Development of the Akamas National Forest Park’, and the updating of the ‘Local Plan for the Akamas Communities’ know that such demands are based on economic interests and are fuelled by populism.
The most important fact in this debate is this. We are not talking about a registered road but a public footpath for which the only vehicles which should have access forestry department vehicles and those of other state departments. The public footpath intersects a protected area of special interest, character, and outstanding natural beauty, which can be thoroughly enjoyed on foot by hikers and nature lovers. Ecologically speaking, buggies have no place within the protected area of Akamas, let alone along that sensitive rocky coastal path.
The agriculture and environment ministry’s main argument why the footpath remains open today for private vehicles and even buggies, is that they must wait for the ‘Plan for the Sustainable Development of the Akamas National Forest Park’ – for which there is a parallel ongoing debate – to be implemented. However, that is not true. According to an article published in Phileleftheros on July 29, there has already been a limitation on access for wheeled vehicles in three ecologically important and sensitive localities of the Akamas Natura 2000 area.
It is also noted that, according to the appropriate assessment studies prepared on behalf of the forestry department and the relevant report issued by the environment department, any further widening of the path will have significant impact on priority habitats and species for which the Akamas Peninsula has been designated a Site of Community Interest for the conservation of natural habitats and wild flora and fauna, and a Special Protection Area for the conservation of wild birds.
In October 2018, the same debate took place following the death of a Russian couple who were on holiday at the same locality. The legal obligation to limit access for private vehicles is undeniable. At the same time, there is an ethical responsibility for the political supervisors to protect human lives and ensure both public safety and environmental protection.
It is not very often that we see eye to eye with the head of Neo Chorio’s community council. But on this occasion, I will back his demand. There are political responsibilities and authorities who must be held accountable for the accidents and for the lives lost, and for the lives which will be lost, if the path remains open to private vehicles.
Maria Hadjimichael holds a PhD in marine governance and environmental politics and is the spokeperson for the Initiative for the Protection of the Cyprus Coastline