© Neil Mark Thomas / Unsplash
TRANSPARENCY AGAINST WILDFIRES
Transparency as regards the economics for the prevention and suppression of forest fires

Forests and wooded areas cover approximately half of Greece. Beeches, pines, oaks, unique areas with endemic species, a beautiful Mediterranean mosaic with an incredible variety of life. Forests are precious to our life, a natural purification filter for the atmosphere, and a shield against climate change.

Every year, however, thousands of square miles of wooded areas and farmland are burned, property is destroyed, and, unfortunately, human lives are often lost. Facing this reality – and with forests being one of the important “assets” for our life – it is our obligation to always be vigilant and to protect them correctly. And prevention has always been the best way to protect our forests from fire.

The national forest fire protection system, focused on suppression, cannot preventatively deal with forest fires, which have serious repercussions for nature, the economy, and society. The state mechanism is inadequate, following many years of failures, one of which is the effective and transparent use of available resources.

To deal with fires in an effective and holistic manner, we must have sound operational plans, an active society, and effective and transparent use of the relevant funding.

The question of “Where will the money go?” for prevention is not discussed as much as it should be, but it is crucial. Indicatively, the available funds for forest services are barely enough to cover 10% of their needs, while the allotment of money to the competent bodies of local administration is carried out without specific rules.

In Greece, the way in which the relevant data are published is complicated and often has gaps. What are the sources of funding, how much do we spend as a country, where do these funds go, and how can one gain access to them? All these questions need to be answered, as improving transparency will lead to better utilisation of resources, and therefore to better forest fire protection results and fortification of our society against forest fires.

FOREST FIRES FIRE ECONOMICS

The annual budget for forest fires in six Mediterranean countries (Turkey, Spain, Italy, Portugal, France, and Greece) is €2 billion.

80% of the budget covers suppression, and only 20% is used for prevention.

The annual financial cost of facing forest fires in the above countries starts at €3 billion, and it can even reach €5 billion per year.

Every hour a firefighting aircraft spends in the air costs approximately €10,000.

The average cost of suppressing a forest fire in Greece may reach €150,000, while in Canada and the USA it costs €81,000 and €17,000 correspondingly.

OUR WORK

The public dialogue on what and how we spend for the prevention and suppression of forest fires starts here.

We are raising this important issue for the first time – an issue that no one else has dealt with systematically in the past. Through our action we shed light on the management of state funds for the prevention and suppression of forest fires. We aim to answer all these simple and harder questions regarding the funds we spend as a country for the prevention and suppression of forest fires, through the analysis and presentation in the public debate of financial data, public minutes, and the decision-making mechanism. Our goal is to provide answers and for action to be taken as to how the control, assessment, transparency, and accountability mechanisms can be improved.

In partnership with the Mediterranean Institute for Investigative Reporting (MIIR) and with expert partners, we research in depth and chart all the state agencies that manage state funds that concern the national forest fire protection system. The Fire Corps, ministries, municipalities, regions, etc. After unravelling and assessing all this information, we will collect data regarding best practices implemented in other European countries. The results of this work will be the creation of a guide outlining funding flows.

This guide will be the main tool for drafting and updating volunteer firefighting teams, civil society groups, and local public agencies directly involved in forest fire protection in regions susceptible to forest fires. Through specialised workshops, participants will learn how this mechanism operates, while our team will record the opinions of these unseen “heroes”, who are often literally on the front line of the fire, and who face all the difficulties and dysfunctions of this system on a daily basis. Thus, a community will be formed, consisting of informed, active citizens who are in a position to influence and contribute to sound governance. Participating in shaping institutional interventions (via relevant workshops) and creating tools for public agency oversight will strengthen the role of civil society, with its volunteer forest fire protection groups at the centre of this effort.

At the same time, we will organise information actions for the broader public and the final conclusions of our research will be sent to all competent services and involved agencies, serving as a reference point on the matter of management, transparency, and accountability with regard to funds for the prevention and suppression of forest fires in Greece. Through this action, we believe that we can contribute to an active civil society, which will demand better, sounder, and more transparent management of funding of the forest fire protection system.

© Federico Bottos / Unsplash

the project

All of the above will be used with the implementation of the ‘Strengthening transparency and accountability in funding forest fire prevention and suppression with the contribution of civil society’ project, which is being implemented in the framework of the Active Citizens Fund programme, the implementing agency for which is WWF Greece, in partnership with the Mediterranean Institute for Investigative Reporting. The project started in May 2020 and will continue until April 2022.

The Active citizens fund in Greece is supported through a € 12m grant from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway as part of the EEA Grants 2014 - 2021. The program aims to develop the sustainability and capacity of the civil society sector in Greece, and to strengthen its role in promoting and safeguarding democratic procedures, active citizenship and human rights. The Fund Operator for the Active citizens fund in Greece is Bodossaki Foundation in consortium with SolidarityNow.

More information

About the EEA Grants financial mechanism

Τhe EEA Grants are jointly financed by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. The EEA Grants are available to the 13 EU member countries that joined the EU and the European Economic Area (EEA) in 2004, 2007 and 2013 as well as Greece and Portugal. The decision-making body of the EEA Grants is the Financial Mechanism Committee, which is composed of representatives of the Foreign Ministries of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

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About the Bodossaki Foundation

The Bodossaki Foundation is one of the most respected privately-owned public benefit organizations in Greece. The Foundation is the culminating point of its founder’s brilliant course in life and remains the carrying vessel of the values and ideas that he faithfully served throughout his eventful life. The Foundation was established in 1972 by Prodromos – Bodossakis Athanassiades who decided to donate his entire fortune to support health care, equal opportunities, quality in education, scientific progress and environmental protection. The Foundation has a deep knowledge of social needs in Greece and has administered so far more than €450m supporting its causes. The Bodossaki Foundation also supports NGOs working with socially vulnerable groups and has lately set the strengthening of civil society as one of its primary objectives. Since 2013 it administers the regranting facilities of the EEA Grants for civil society in Greece.

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About SolidarityNow

SolidarityNow (SN) is a non-governmental organization established in 2013 to respond to the needs, and advocate for the rights of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups, indiscriminately. SN’s Headquarters are in Athens, with large operations in Thessaloniki and activities across the country. The organization’s vision is to improve people’s lives and to empower them to create a just and inclusive society. SN’s actions fall under three main strategic priorities: a) Promoting safety and protection; b) Catalyzing livelihoods opportunities; c) Strengthening the independence of civil society and defending open society values. SN has supported 300,000 people to date, both through direct project implementation and through regranting programmes. Through its regranting initiatives, SN has supported 73 different programs and provided a total funding of € 14.4M to support Greek civil society organizations.

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Project leader: Elias Tziritis

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Without your support, we cannot continue to defend our precious natural environment and ensure a healthy future for humanity and the planet. Join us now!