When infrastructure crumbles, evacuations and curfews result as solutions

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

Torrential rains poured all over Greece last week causing widespread flooding – especially over the Ionian islands where the last tourists joined the locals in flight before the surging waters; also in parts of Athens where cars were swept along, buses were standed in underpasses, pupils were evacuated from flooded classrooms over makeshift bridges built out of school-desks. Even more unpleasantly, the flooding was also concentrated in the same parts of Northern Evia which was ravaged by summer wildfires just some weeks ago: everybody had feared that the erosion of topsoil would cause damage and increased risk of flooding – but now the local populations know it for sure.

The trauma of climate change, now upgraded in political parlance to climate crisis – Greece has even acquired a fully blown ministry of Climate Crisis and Civil Protection, with Cypriot/former EU-Commissioner for crisis management Christos Stylianidis serving as Secretary and retired airforce general Evangelos Tournas as Under-Secretary – has increased public opinion sensitivities over the issue. From a public policy point of view, the main objective was to ensure there was no loss of life – and this was successful both in the fire season and now in the flood one (as they are getting entrenched in public awareness of crisis management becoming the new normal). Greece being Greece, there was a wave of political bickering over the lack – or: dearth – of preventive measures and/or the easy resorting to excessive reactions, like the decision to impose a curfew in parts of Athens where the flooding was of grave concern. The same scenario played out in the case of fires, where evacuations were the preferred policy instrument.

Now that waters are receding – just like when the fires were finally put out – one thing should be realized: when infrastructure becomes inadequate to face the new normal of successive crises and when prevention fails, then society will have to live with the unpleasant realities of evacuations and curfews in lieu of policy-making. Coming close on the step of prohibitions and curfews of the Covid-19 pandemic era, this situation leaves behind an unpleasant sediment of imposition and exercise of authority in everyday life: will this, too, be part of the normal?