THE GEOLOGY of Cyprus is unique and results from the natural forces responsible for its creation. Over millions of years, the island has been slowly squeezed out of the water as Africa has moved north, pushing against the European land mass by continental drift.
The natural forces that created the island left behind a legacy of riches. For Cyprus’ early inhabitants these included copper, from which the island got its name.
But the natural forces that created Cyprus also left behind a legacy of problems. The most notable of these is unstable land in which landslides are common. In Cyprus, landslides are usually triggered by heavy rainfall, earthquakes, erosion, and human activity.
Anyone travelling the island should visit Pissouri, Kinousa or Polemi where they will see the damage resulting from houses built on landslides.
The Cyprus Geological Survey Department (GSD) has mapped vulnerable landslide areas in Paphos District and to a lesser extent, those in Limassol.
Problematic Paphos villages include Agios Photios and Statos, Choletria, Theletra, Episkopi, Marathounda and Armou. Following devastating landslips at Agios Photios and Statos, the Government moved both villages to a new location. Choetria & Theletra villages were also relocated after suffering similar disasters.
The GSD map shows bentonite and mélange landslides. These clays absorb huge amounts of water, expanding by as much as 15 times their original volume and shrinking back as they dry out. The extreme forces exerted as they expand and contract can wreak havoc to anything built on them. Deposits of bentonite and mélange can be found at many villages, including Simou, Drinia, Phiti, Milia, Anadiou, Lasa, Krittou, Marottou, Kannaviou, Melamiou, Ayios Dimitrianos, Nata and Fionikaria.
When it rains it pours!
In 2006 heavy rain in Paphos triggered mud slides which resulted in damage to property and the tragic loss of two lives. The authorities worked hard to put matters right. They improved and enlarged drains, and contoured and cleared ravines blocked by discarded rubbish.
Almost immediately, a developer in-filled one of the cleared ravines and started building houses. What happens the next time there’s some heavy rain? Will these houses get washed away?
Heavy rains also caused problems at a development at Pissouri. One owner went to check that the contents of his garden shed were keeping dry. Seconds after returning to the house he heard a loud crash; a 20 foot reinforced concrete wall had collapsed, crushing his shed and filling his garden and swimming pool with mud, water and goat excrement. If he’d lingered a few seconds longer in his shed, he may well have been killed.
More recently, a development at Nata built by British property developer Adrian Mills (who subsequently skipped the island), was declared unsafe by an independent surveyor who visited one of the properties in 2007.
In 2011, a development of 14 villas and apartment at Tala started to shift prompting the police to close the main road leading to the Kamares village, diverting traffic from the area. (The road has been reopened).
The homes at Armou
The development of 6 homes on a hillside of soft clay at Armou is at great risk from the winter rains. One of the houses has already been deemed unfit for habitation and has been condemned; local people have avoided the area.
But landslides in the area could also be triggered by excavations and vibrations caused by vehicles, alterations to the surface water flow caused by roads and other hard landscaping, large discharges of water from swimming pools, sewerage problems caused by the non-permeable nature of the soil, etc.
These factors may impact on neighbouring areas, damaging buildings, and accelerating nearby active slides.
Given Cyprus’ long experience of landslides and having to move whole villages to new locations, you would think that the law would prohibit the construction of property on unstable land. Unfortunately, this is not the case!
According to the Cyprus Geological Survey Department, engineers and geologists engaged by developers (and others) are responsible for ensuring the stability of any structure and its surrounding area.
If problems arise, buyers must pursue their case through the courts; landslide is a natural hazard and properties built in these areas are generally uninsurable.
A disaster waiting to happen
You may recall the Aberfan disaster of 1966. On October 21st a tip of coal waste, undermined by water, engulfed the South Wales village of Aberfan killing 144 people, 116 of whom were children.
Let’s hope the powers that be have the courage to ban construction in unsafe areas – or ensure that the plans take ground conditions into account before issuing building permits.
Or perhaps they’re waiting for a tragedy like Aberfan to strike in Cyprus!