What a lot of information you can learn from "sniffing" around rubbish dumps! My education began at the Sarakiniko dump near Naoussa in early May where citizens of Naoussa have blocked the road to the dump with old trucks and cars and are maintaining a 24-hour vigil to keep the road closed. They have been protesting for many years that the burning of garbage at this site is poisoning local wells and releasing toxins into the environment which are spread over the village of Naoussa whenever there is a south wind. On the day that we visited the protest site, they insisted that we walk right up to the dump to see how full it already is, not only with everyday household trash, but with old cookers, fridges and all kinds of electrical appliances. Thick clouds of foul-smelling smoke made it hard to breathe and I took my photographs as quickly as I could so that I could get away from the toxic environment as fast as possible.
This current action began in April when they closed the road temporarily, protesting at the increased amount of garbage that was being brought to Naoussa after other dumps on the island had been closed. They threatened to start a full-scale blockage on 7th May if nothing was done. When the trucks were still bringing in full loads from the Easter weekend, they began their "occupation" and swear they will not move this time until a definite solution has been found. With the assistance of lawyer Mr Lavdas, they have started legal proceedings against the Municipality of Paros for violating health and safety laws. They are also collecting signatures from the citizens of Naoussa for a petition supporting the blocking of the road, protesting the continued use of the Sarakiniko dump and asking for its closure. Around 600 signatures have already been gathered so far.
They told us that an extraordinary meeting was held at the Town Hall on 20th May - starting at 8.30pm and continuing until 2am and attended by the Mayor and other local authorities plus Mr Rigas, Member of Parliament for the Cyclades, who came from Syros. They were told at this meeting that a single new dump site has to be found by the end of 2002 by which time all the six existing dumps must be closed. The burning of garbage at this new site will be forbidden and the three sites suggested are: 1) Aghios Charalambos (above the airport, near Loukis), 2) north of Kamares, 3) above Aspro Chorio. Relocating the dump to any of these areas would require purchasing land from the current owners. In addition, studies already completed by EU environmentalists suggest that not all of these sites are suitable for this purpose. They also learned at this meeting that if no permanent solution - that is the installation of a garbage disposal plant, including facilities for recycling - has been achieved by the end of 2004, the EU will cut billions of drachmas worth of funding to Greece for environmental protection.
Far away from Sarakiniko, breathing the nice clean air at the Town Hall, I spoke with Georgos Nikas and asked him to explain the situation from the point of view of the Dimos (Municipality). He told me that all six dumps on the island (Thapsana for Paroikia, Sarakiniko for Naoussa, Piso Livadi, Kostos, Lefkes and Aspro Chorio) have to be closed by the end of the year. All six existing dumps are already inadequate for the small areas they cover, so it isn't possible to choose one of these sites as a single site for the whole island as none of them can accommodate this much rubbish. In any case, whichever site is chosen will result in demonstrations by the local residents protesting the relocation. Since the dump at Sarakiniko is inaccessible because of the demonstration of the citizens of Naoussa, all garbage from Naoussa is now being brought again to Thapsana. The Thapsana dump had previously been closed because of damage to the concrete ramp there which creates safety issues for the drivers of the garbage trucks. However, despite the danger, it is not intended that the ramp will be fixed as the citizens of Marathi have also been protesting the location of the dump so close to their homes and to the important tourist site of the marble quarry and they want this site closed. A meeting was held in Syros including the Mayor of Paros and other political representatives from the Cyclades - similar situations exist also in the other islands - and by the end of this year a common solution has to be found in order to comply with EU regulations.
The Municipality is now starting to plan for the installation of a proper disposal plant that will either have recycling facilities or convert garbage to fertiliser as the only real permanent solution.
We also had the chance to speak with two of the members of the International Women's Organization of Santorini (IWOS) when they visited Paros in May and we asked them about the garbage situation on Santorini. They have similar problems and concerns there too. After local citizens blocked the road to their dump and sued the Municipality, their Dimos commissioned a private company to collect the rubbish and to build an incinerator. However, they already owe this company so much money (somewhere in the region of 250 millions drachmas) that its future operation is in doubt. IWOS have been in contact with the company's owner who told them that according to EU regulations Greece will have to find a way to recycle at least 50% of its garbage within the next few years.
We'll let you know further information as we follow up on this very important issue, but in the meantime, perhaps we'd all better think about the fact that the air we breathe on this beautiful island is not quite as clean and healthy as we might have imagined. And if we care enough to want to make a difference for the future, we might all exercise our right to vote for the candidate that we believe will provide the best solution in the next Municipal elections to be held in October (see article on page 9).
If you would like further information on the situation in Naoussa or to help in their campaign, contact Yannis Tsopanis on tel/fax 02840-52646, 094-2772023. At the Dimos, contact Georgos Nikas on 02840-21200.