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We Cannot Mess with the Environment with Impunity

THE TORRENTIAL rain that has hit the Paphos district several times over the past few weeks has caused a host of problems ranging from mudslides to flash floods, which on Monday resulted in human tragedy. There had been warning signs just over a couple of weeks ago, when tourists holidaying at Coral Bay were lucky […]

THE TORRENTIAL rain that has hit the Paphos district several times over the past few weeks has caused a host of problems ranging from mudslides to flash floods, which on Monday resulted in human tragedy.

There had been warning signs just over a couple of weeks ago, when tourists holidaying at Coral Bay were lucky to escape with a few cuts and bruises after a mudslide ripped through their hotel. A Cypriot couple was not so lucky on Monday night, when their car was hit by a mudslide and pushed over the side of a bridge – the woman’s body was found on Tuesday while rescue teams were still searching for her husband yesterday afternoon, although the chances of finding him alive seem non-existent.

Several newspapers referred to the chaos as ‘nature’s revenge’ and a punishment for the uncontrolled development that has taken place in Paphos over the past 10 years. It is true that over the past decade, the Paphos district has become a giant building site, holiday villas and apartment complexes springing up everywhere. The authorities – town planning and the municipalities – were issuing building permits with carefree abandon, oblivious to the effects that big development projects would have on the environment or to the possibility that many building sites were unsuitable.

This laissez-faire approach to development has played havoc with nature, as it ignored natural gradients, the geology of different areas, hydrological factors and the existence of creeks and river-beds through which rainwater flowed to the sea. The chopping of trees for the creation of more building plots and the construction of new roads without proper surveys has also contributed to the current problems. It is a chaotic situation that will only get worse because of the failure of the authorities to exercise any rational control and formulate a plan for sustainable land development.

While this may be easier said than done, there is no excuse for the failure of the local authorities to have adequate drainage infrastructure or to maintain and clean up riverbeds and creeks, many of which are blocked by solid waste which prevent rainwater from flowing to the coasts through the natural channels and cause the unprecedented violent torrents experienced on Monday. It seems the municipal officials think of this basic maintenance work only after disaster has struck.

It is to be hoped that nature’s warnings will not go unheeded this time. Local authorities need to suspend the issuing of all building permits for now until they formulate new rules and regulations that will take into account an area’s geology, natural gradients, rainwater channels, etc. And once these are ready they should be strictly adhered to, because as we have seen in the last few days, we cannot mess with the natural environment with impunity.

Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2006

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