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Thursday, 12 July, 2001, 18:06 GMT 19:06 UK
Heat is on in Greece
Athens smoke haze
Smoke from forest fires hangs over Athens
By Paul Wood in Athens

The sound of summer in Greece is increasingly the sound of fire engines.

As the temperatures soar, the forests dry out and the slightest spark can set a blaze going out of control.

Where I live in northern Athens, the hillside is already blackened and charred from last year's fires.

This has become such a regular part of life in Greece that each year the government puts into effect an emergency plan, directing a fleet of planes to the worst hit areas to scoop water out of the sea and dump it onto the fire.

Crete
Greece relies on its heat to attract tourists
Over the past few days the temperature in Greece has reached 39C, a mini heat wave but not as bad as last year when at 45C the government declared a civil disaster, opening the beaches at night so that people from the sweltering centre of Athens could have somewhere cool to sleep at night.

The capital, with its population of five million, probably contributes its share of the pollutants which cause the greenhouse effect and damage the ozone layer.

However, pollution in the city is not as bad as it used to be, partly thanks to a strict system of traffic regulation which allows cars into the centre only on alternate days depending on their registration.

In fact, it is striking how little the Greek public seems to care about the issue of global warming, especially as its been linked to the increasing shortage of water here.

Greek forest fire
The slightest spark can set a hillside ablaze
Rainfall has been low not just this year, but over the past several years.

Several islands do not have enough to drink and the southern Peloponnese, Crete and Cyprus have all been declared at risk of desertification.

Of course the hot dry weather and wonderful coastline are what keep the Greek economy going - as many as one million foreign tourists will visit the Hellenic Republic over the summer.

But this is why global warming could be such a threat to Greece - if the water level rises too far, the beaches and perhaps some of the islands could disappear; if it gets too hot, the tourists might no longer come.

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See also:

13 Jul 00 | Europe
Greece battles new fires
06 Jul 00 | Europe
Dozens die in Balkan heatwave
27 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Forest fires 'set to worsen'
11 Jul 00 | Europe
Fighting forest fires
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