ATHENS, Greece. — Greece is facing a “natural disaster of unprecedented proportions,” as 586 wildfires are burning in “all corners” of the country, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a televised address on Monday.
The Mediterranean nation is broiling under one of its worst heatwaves in decades and firefighters continue to battle blazes across the country. Sixty-three organized evacuations have taken place in the past few days, Mitsotakis said.
He also apologized “for any weaknesses” on the part of the government in containing the wildfires, which have destroyed hundreds of homes and forced people to evacuate dozens of villages over the past week.
“These last days have been some of the most difficult for our country in decades,” he said, citing the extreme heat and months of drought as issues that have complicated firefighting efforts.
Environmental authorities have warned that southern Europe, where droughts are becoming more frequent and severe, is at the greatest risk from the impacts of climate change on the continent.
“It is obvious that the climate crisis is affecting the whole planet,” Mitsotakis said. “That is the explanation, but not an excuse, or an alibi. We may have done everything that was humanly possible, but in many cases this did not seem to be enough in the unequal battle with nature,” he added.
On Monday, a state-of-the-science report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded it is “unequivocal” that humans have caused the climate crisis and confirmed that “widespread and rapid changes” have already occurred, some of them irreversibly.
Scientists are more confident than ever in connecting the dots between the climate crisis and extreme weather: globally, droughts that may have occurred only once every 10 years or so now happen 70% more frequently, according to the report. And amid unrelenting drought and record heat, wildfire seasons are now longer and result in more destructive fires.
Mitsotakis said any failures in Greece’s firefighting response will be identified, those responsible will be held to account and people whose property was destroyed will be compensated.
The prime minister will chair a cabinet meeting on Tuesday which will announce specific measures to tackle the effects of the wildfires.