Along with the natural wealth of the forest, which acted as a green lung for the region, an inexhaustible toll of losses was taken by fire: houses, animals, and crops burned too. In an area where the forest is inextricably linked to all aspects of inhabitants’ lives, the economic and psychological effects have been profound.
Just a few days after the fire was extinguished, we announced a fire relief initiative for northern Evia totaling up to €15 million. To be able to contribute as effectively and efficiently as possible, we organized a series of visits and discussions with the local community to better understand the situation and hear from residents themselves about the problems they face on the ground and their real needs.
“Forest fires, such as the one in northern Evia, are not unusual events at the global level. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that we will be seeing similar disasters more and more regularly in the near future. The effects of a fire on this scale are not only irreparable for the environment, but create a chain of consequences for the local community, for the mental state, the economic wellbeing, and the day-to-day life of inhabitants,” said SNF Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos. “When you cannot prevent catastrophic events, you have to do something to mitigate their consequences, to understand the needs and act very quickly to help, within your capacity, where and however you can, on many different levels. Our aim was immediate relief, to the extent of our ability, but we hope that it addressed crucial issues and that its impact will be long-term.”
Following the completion of a grant evaluation process which remained open for more than a year, and in collaboration with around a dozen local and international partners on the development of a number of programs and activities, SNF’s contribution has reached a total of €3,578,000. Many of the programs are in progress now and will continue in the coming months. They are expected to be completed in the next few years, having, we hope, offered substantial help to the people impacted by fire and contributed to the recovery of the local community.
The initiative has focused on three main axes: 1. supporting professionals and the local economy, 2. providing psychological and social support, as well as boosting the morale of residents of northern Evia, and 3. strengthening forest firefighting and flood prevention. The purpose and content of each of the individual grants are explained below.
Supporting professionals and strengthening the local economy
One of our main goals, in coordination with the collaborating nonprofit organizations, was to provide direct support to the professionals who make their living from the forest and live off the land in northern Evia, giving them what they need to continue their profession and remain in their homeland. To achieve this, we focused on primary needs, such as providing equipment, implementing training programs, and creating new jobs.
Specifically, in collaboration with the nonprofit New Agriculture New Generation, we focused on providing support to beekeepers, resin producers and forestry workers, and stock farmers, while, in collaboration with Desmos, Istorima and the Nautical Club of Limni we concentrated on creating new jobs.
Psychological and social support for the residents of northern Evia
There is no doubt that such an all-encompassing disaster has traumatized the community of northern Evia as a whole. People have seen their land and a lifetime’s work destroyed in just a few days. We knew we needed to stand with these people, both adults and children, to help them not only heal their wounds, but also nurture hope for a better tomorrow. We aimed to help both by providing psychosocial support and by offering resources that contributed to the strength and outlook of the community. In this effort, we are collaborating with ActionAid, ARGO Federation of Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Mental Health Organizations, Science Communication (SciCo), PYRNA, and TO PERIVOLAKI.
Strengthening forest firefighting and flood prevention
After a fire on such a scale, experts’ attention—and by extension ours—focused on the catastrophic consequences that an extreme flooding event could cause during the winter in the areas around the burnt forest, and the possible ways of dealing with it. At the same time, responding to a request, we helped bolster local forest firefighters’ capacity with personal protective equipment, in collaboration with the Association of Volunteer Forest Firefighters and Rescuers of Elymnia, the Association of Volunteer Forest Fire Fighters of North-Central Evia, and the Association of Volunteer Forest Protection & Rescue Forces.
The next chapter for northern Evia is already here, with the forests showing signs of new growth. Through more than a year of activity by SNF in the region and by keeping our call for relief grant requests open for the same length of time, we have sought to assist, to the best of our ability, in this enormous effort. Alongside the organizations we collaborated with, we are glad to have helped support residents, professionals, unemployed people, and children—wherever there was need. The credit for northern Evia’s recovery goes to its residents, most of whom have not allowed themselves to be driven from their homeland, but have stayed and have continued to persist in the face of adverse conditions to rebuild their lives.