Fears of drought, fires and power cuts

The government stressed yesterday that it is fully prepared to tackle likely water shortages, forest fires, floods and power cuts during what promises to be a "tough summer."

During a meeting with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, five cabinet ministers outlined the measures they have taken to avert possible problems.

With fears of forest fires high amid forecasts of a particularly hot and dry summer, extra measures have been taken, Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras said. A total of 5,500 seasonal rescue workers have had their contracts renewed for five years, the minister said, adding that an additional 1,300 firemen would be hired over the next two years. "We have solid planning and our staff are well trained," Polydoras said on leaving the Maximos Mansion.

Firefighting efforts from the air will be spearheaded by 10 large helicopters and other aircraft if necessary, Defense Minister Evangelos Meimarakis said.

As regards water shortages, Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos said the problem would be most acute in the northern and southern Aegean but stressed that 26 million euros had already been set aside for desalination works so that scant water resources can be boosted. Seasonal staff have been hired to deal with likely problems, Pavlopoulos said.

Agriculture Minister Evangelos Bassiakos, whose ministry is cooperating with that of Pavlopoulos, said that 46 infrastructure works had already been completed in a bid to mitigate water shortages and the loss of water through irrigation networks.

As regards the risk of power cuts during the summer, Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas said that all necessary measures would be taken to avert such an eventuality. Risks will be heightened in the event of a heat wave, when increased use of air conditioners weigh heavy on the power grid.

The risk of floods this summer is also significant, chiefly due to major fires that have destroyed large areas of forestland over the past few years, making many regions susceptible to flooding.

One such region is Halkidiki where vast tracts of forestland in the area of Cassandra were ravaged by a massive fire last summer. According to local authorities, anti-flood works in the area - launched after the blaze - have still not been completed.

However last year's blaze and the damage it wreaked on Halkidiki's natural beauty - some 5,000 hectares of forest were burnt - have not discouraged tourists from visiting the region, authorities say. On the contrary, a 10 percent increase in tourist arrivals is expected this year. According to authorities, an intensive international advertising campaign is believed to have contributed to this positive trend.