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Mediterranean Snowstorm Costs Greek Farmers 300 Million

February 23, 2004

By Christopher Deliso

“Lost, it’s all lost,” one Thessaloniki greengrocer told us on Saturday. He was talking about the winter vegetables and fruit that grow throughout typically balmy Greece- and were destroyed by last week’s freak snowstorm.

So, what will they do now? “What they always do,” muttered one customer in the same shop. “Raise the prices.”

It does not seem that merchants will have much of a choice. According to the government, the damage is estimated at Ђ300 million. However, says Athens’ “Kathimerini,”“…the cost is likely to be higher when damage becomes evident in regions still heavily snowed under, such as mountainous parts of Crete.”

Matters are complicated because major elections are taking place soon, on 7 March. However, current Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis promised that “at least half” of compensation for farmers would be paid by April 11- that is, by Easter.

Could a large and sudden increase in the price of fresh produce be politically damaging for the incumbent PASOK government? The Development Ministry yesterday held an emergency meeting with farmers, producers and traders to try and get assurances on price controls.

According to Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos, “timely imports” by the market are going to stave off any massive price hikes. The government is praying that the market stabilizes soon.

Early price increases, according to “Kathimerini,” have most notably affected specific crops: the price of chicory went up 33.5 percent no Monday, followed by spinach (31.4 percent), and then oranges, by 10 percent. According to the paper, “…both open-air and greenhouse products were destroyed by the heavy snow and freezing weather, as fields were covered by snow, fruit on trees was frozen and greenhouses collapsed.”

However, in addition to the visible damage to crops like lemons, oranges, grapefruits and red peppers, the situation may be worsened, if the snows (and presumably torrential spring drainage to come) destroy olive trees- resilient enough in hot and dry weather, but untested in cold. Greece’s olive oil industry is one of its most crucial, and the trees themselves are often ancient and thus irreplaceable.

Even worse, the National Meteorological Service warned today of new snowstorms for central and southern Greece, from Larisa to Crete.

Among the fallout of the storm has been a partial breakdown of the water supply in Athens, the capital, where heavy usage and broken pipes severely strained the system- causing some to worry about the city’s ability to cope in August. There is a major and seemingly paradoxical premise here: in this study of extremes, excessive water use under very cold temperatures is showing the same effects as heavy usage under very hot conditions. The Greeks, and Olympic athletes too, are hoping for the latter during August’s Games.

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