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Our View: More than lip service needed to fight forest fires

forestry demo
Demonstrators (and trees) outside the ministry on Monday (Photo: Christos Theodorides)

Despite this year’s extended cold snap, we’re only a couple of months away from probably yet another scorching summer, which was brought home to us on Monday during a protest by workers from the forestry department, and also a few days ago during a memorial for four Egyptian men who died in the Arakapas fire last year.

Ever since the Solea fires in 2016, during which two firemen died, forestry department workers have on and off staged protests and strikes over understaffing. When they do plan a strike, it’s usually called off at the last minute because new promises are made to them to discuss their understaffing issues.

This has been going on for more than the past six years but for some reason it never seems to get resolved while at the same time the government goes on about saving the planet, climate change, climate goals, green deals, green technologies and bragging about how many millions will be invested with the help of the EU in these projects.

Meanwhile forest fires, especially Solea and Arakapas, and also the Tala fire in June 2021, besides the lost lives, are decimating huge swathes of forest and affecting homes, businesses and crops, and it’s costing probably millions to rehabilitate these areas and pay out compensation.

The forestry department, whose employees put their lives on the line every summer, are asking for 27 vacancies to be filled, not 127 or 227. They say that since the last meeting at the finance ministry at the end of November, and despite public statements to the contrary, no action has been taken to resolve the problems.

At the same time, only last Friday statistics were released showing that total government employment continued to rise in February 2022 driven by more temporary hirings, which went up by 1,221 people.

Yet, we can’t seem to find the money to better protect the remaining forests or move two asphalt plants that continue to pollute local communities even after two years of delayed decision making, despite government promises and pledges.

All of the ‘green’ money appears to be going into a future net-zero utopia without first cleaning up our own backyard. And it’s not just the forests. Cyprus quite often gets a rap on the knuckles from Brussels over its lax approach to various environmental issues, ones that exist in the here and now.

The government always seems to become very proactive following a disaster but fails badly on foresight, even with the gift of hindsight as is the case with our history of forest fires.

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