By Marina Rafenberg
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In August 2021, more than 50,000 hectares of the Aegean island were devastated by fire. Today, most of the aid promised by the Greek state is still pending. Resin collectors, ranchers, farmers and beekeepers try to survive.
On the winding road to Limni, a small seaside town in the north of the Greek island of Euboea, rain streams down the gaunt hills and scorched tree carcasses, memories of a nightmarish summer where fire destroyed more of 50,000 hectares. The earth is still the color of charcoal, but its consistency is muddy. The fog envelops the desolate landscape where nature is far from having reclaimed its rights. Mules carrying entire logs appear in the twilight of a cold November evening.
The scene appears to have been taken from a black and white film by Greek director Theo Angelopoulos. With the sound of chainsaws, the hairs stand on end. “Be careful, let’s go! », Exclaim Dimitris Stamoulis and his friend Yannis. Perched on the heights of a cliff, the two acolytes throw a log of wood towards the precipice. The earth is shaking slightly. Further down, colleagues collect logs to build dikes.
Read also In pictures: in Greece, the island of Euboea ravaged by apocalyptic fires
In this region devastated by flames in August, residents now fear heavy flooding and landslides. “Now that the trees are no longer there to hold back the rains, there is a great risk of a new disaster,” explains the thirty-something Dimitris Stamoulis, cap on his head and disheveled beard. We avoided any deaths on the island this summer. But today we fear to bury the world if the anti-flood works do not advance quickly enough. “
The state has released 24 million euros, and 33 forestry cooperatives, or 600 people, are working throughout the region to cut trees, install dikes and dams. Most of the workers come from northern Greece. But some, like Dimitris Stamoulis, are resin companies, unemployed since the flames of the summer.
Dimitris Stamoulis (right) and his friend Yannis. The two men were collecting pine resin, the island’s main resource, before the fires. Here, on the island of Evia (Greece), in November 2021. ENRI CANAJ / MAGNUM PHOTOS FOR “M LE MAGAZINE DU MONDE”
Like him, around 1,500 people made a living from pine resin in Evia. It is used to make industrial glues, cosmetics, paint, or retsina, a traditional Greek wine. Until 2020, of the 6,500 tonnes produced throughout Greece, 5,500 came from Evia. The exploitation of the resin brought to the island approximately 5.5 million euros of income each year. A financial windfall that has now disappeared.
“35% of the population is currently unemployed,” notes the mayor of Limni, Giorgos Tsapourniotis, exasperated. We are still waiting for state aid… Unfortunately, we are in Greece and the bureaucracy is slowing down the whole process. The government has yet pledged to spend 500 million euros, or 0.3% of nominal GDP, for compensation, restoration and reconstruction. Aid of up to 8,000 euros has been promised to affected farmers and businesses. But many are still waiting for them.
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