Address by the General Secretary of AKEL Stefanos Stefanou to the “Phylloshia” Festival, Arakapas village Square
18 June 2022, AKEL C.C. Press Office, Nicosia
I welcome you all to the 2nd “Phylloshia” Festival jointly organised by the Central Committee of AKEL and the Environmental Movement of Cyprus. “Phylloshia” is here to stay and become a custom in events dedicated to the environment. It highlights the critical issues the environment and sustainability face. It seeks to raise awareness in society about the need to protect the environment and bring back to the fore the self-evident, such as ensuring the right to a healthy and sustainable environment.
Naturally, this year’s gathering continues to maintain the specific purpose that led to the decision to organise the Festival last year. That is to say, to support the local communities of the Larnaca and Limassol districts that were severely affected by the July 2021 fires. We are here again now that the spotlight has been shifted elsewhere, to continue to stand on the side of the local residents, professionals and producers who have seen their lives destroyed and the efforts of a lifetime lost.
We are here once again, as we have been several times so far with visits and tours organised by our Party and militants of the mass organisations of the Left, to give a breath of fresh air to the affected areas and the residents who have and are still facing the ordeal resulting from the fires. To check whether and to what extent the promises made by the government are being implemented as the devastation was raging. This is because we have often noted, regrettably, that promises and pledges are either not kept or their implementation is deficient and promoted with great delays.
The inhabitants of the area, besides being affected by the fires, were again affected a few months later by subsequent landslides and flooding caused by the heavy rainfall and deforestation. It is clear that additional works are needed to deal effectively with erosion and landslides.
Our forests and natural wealth are being threatened by climate change as never before. Scientists warn that the risk of forest fires is set to increase even more in the coming years because of the extreme weather conditions being observed.
With an average of 162 forest fires breaking out annually, approximately 2,500 hectares of forest land are burnt in Cyprus. The cost is not only in the loss of life and damage to property, but also to the damage generated to the environment. This is damage that cannot be calculated, costed and cannot be restored.
Fires leave their mark for decades and the consequences affect not only forests and the ecosystem, but also the very life that surrounds us. Fires damage nature and human life, affecting health, well-being, employment, economic and social activities. They undermine local and community activity. Rural life is dealt devastating blows. Fires change everyday life as we know it, something that you in particular, as residents of these affected areas, know better than anyone else.
Let us all hope that we do not relive last year’s nightmare. We mustn’t let any fire turn our land into ashes again, blacken our souls again. It is everyone’s duty and responsibility, but first and above all it is the government’s obligation, to take all necessary measures in a timely and decisive manner so that terrible events such as those we witnessed last July do not occur again.
We have said it and we shall repeat it. The need to protect the environment has been and remains a key priority for AKEL. It is this need that requires us to act in a preventative manner and not belatedly. In the cases of natural disasters, the state’s assistance must be both adequate and immediate in order to be effective.
We insist on the strengthening of state services with modern and appropriate equipment, which have been downgraded in recent years. We insist on the utilisation of all the relevant forces of our country. We demand their adequate scientific and technical staffing, which unfortunately is not being done. You see, for this government, the priority is to staff the Presidential Office with more advisers and cronies, instead of strengthening critical and essential services.
It is clear that policies relating to prevention and environmental protection are not a priority for this Government. Its priority is the promotion of illegal developments and the violation of the environmental acquis. When its priority is to serve powerful interests, then the environment is sacrificed. This is precisely what the government has done on several occasions. This is what it is doing right now with its relentless effort to satisfy powerful interests by destroying the great environmental wealth Cyprus has in the Akamas peninsula.
We are totally opposed to the environmentally criminal policies being pursued by the government. We will continue to be opposed to them because we know very well that “we do not inherit the land from our ancestors, but we borrow it from our children”. We fully share the message conveyed by the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
Climate change does not wait and does not forgive. Respect for the natural environment can’t be restricted to the issuing of proclamations, but neither can it be confined to giving assurances.
It was and is a matter of principle.
It is a matter of perception and priority.
Environmental justice can only be achieved if the common good is placed above any private interests. Above the logic of the maximization of profits regardless of the damage to the environment.
It is up to us to confront today’s challenges together, through a sustainable redesign of the country’s developmental model that must respect the environment and above all people themselves. This is one of the most fundamental objectives of the progressive change we are seeking. Environmental protection and sustainability will feature prominently in the Agenda for Change. This is what we have agreed with Andreas Mavroyiannis and it could not be otherwise, since Andreas is particularly sensitive to environmental issues.
We would like to thank the local community leader of Arakapas for his hospitality. We thank the community leaders and the residents of the other areas for their presence at our event.