THE RAPE OF AKAMAS – PREAMBLE
Article One (of III)
Revolution of the Mind Series
Andreas C Chrysafis
When a nation does not take seriously the implementation of effective measures to protect its environment not only it has no future, but it also offers no hope for the younger generations to protect nature and learn to respect wildlife. In a civil society, it’s called the nurturing of the soul!
It is a well-recognized fact that land development is a necessity to meet the demands of nation-growth but unless based on ecologically minded policies, the obvious becomes a real problem. The way countries treat their landscape and eco-system varies greatly from nation to nation; some score better than others!
One country that so far has not scored highly to protect its environment is Cyprus. Today it faces pressure from enemies within to allow development in sensitive and ecologically protected areas.
Undeniably tourism is an industry that Cyprus depends on economically and certainly deserves support to expand its services and remain competitive. That support however cannot be at the expense of the environment. That is where the government has to play a critical role and introduce fair but strict laws to protect nature and not turn a blind eye to favouritism! If properly planned there are greater profits to be made from sustainable tourism than destroying nature to accommodate an elite sector in society.
In the absence of strong environmental policies, the Akamas Peninsula’s 230 sq. km unspoilt and virtually virgin landscape faces a serious threat. This irreplaceable scenery amid the forest, brush-land, hills and beaches covers six per cent of the island and its unique geographical location, makes Akamas special indeed. A World Bank Report in 1996 recommended that all of Akamas should be protected. Unfortunately, such a foresight and vision its not shared by all.
There is a well-organized group lobbying the government for re-zoning the peninsula so they can lay their hands on the last remaining sanctuary of the island.
By cleverly manipulating parliamentary committees and other authorities with an array of “environmental studies, slick charts and risk assessment reports” (produced by the industry itself) the government seems incapable or unwilling to say “No” to those powerful corporations; that’s where the major problem lies! Where there in no effective law, there is no wrong or justice!
The demand for re-zoning Akamas in the hope to cash in on booming tourism has been brutal. Pressure comes from developers, hotel associations, investment agencies, local mayors and village leaders but also from individuals who have inherited large parcels of land. In the meantime, investors have been accumulating stocks of cheap rural land in Akamas to hold as “land banks” in readiness when re-zoning takes place. Do they know something that others don’t?
Indisputably, landowners have the right to enjoy the rewards of their properties and if expropriated in the national interest (a normal practice), they should be fully compensated but it’s equally right to protect nature for future generations. Zero tolerance for development in the EU Natura 2000 environmental protection programme should strictly be applied to protect its biodiversity as a national park. In the ancient Hellenic times such places were known as Sacred Groves and were untouchable! Not so today in Cyprus!
Each year hundreds of hunters overrun the peninsula in combat gear with their dogs and like “Rambo” go on a killing spree of wildlife. Elsewhere in the world, no such practice can be excusable in a National Park but it seems to make no difference here. This is where the government has utterly failed to protect its national heritage!
There is however an additional problem looming for the peninsula: the Minister of the Interior has announced that waterfront development is permissible subject to an application to his department. He has the power to overrule the local authority! Unquestionably, this is a great loophole for the developers; one may say its manna from heaven! In progressive countries, nobody but nobody can own or build on the waterfront; its declared as a national protection zone and held in trust for future generations!
With the exploitation of the coastline it now opens up a new Pandora’s box! The notion that nobody has the right to own the waterfront has suddenly become a myth. Soon holidaymakers will be treated as trespassers unless they pay to use some beaches in Cyprus. A case has recently surfaced when groups of bathers were asked to leave the Blue Lagoon in Akamas to prepare the area for a private beach party for the super-rich of a 5-star hotel. The reason for their removal; bathers were trespassing on a private waterfront property!
The Akamas is under siege and once encroachment for development starts it’s the beginning of the end. The damage would be irreversible! The uniqueness and ruggedness of the area centered on its precious ecology, biodiversity and its wild forests with its pristine shoreline will be gone forever.
It is for this very reason that encroachment of the Akamas must stop before it’s too late.
It started with Alekos Michaelides a foreign minister of the Republic who used his political status to relax laws and build his beautiful 5-star Anassa luxury hotel at the foothills of Baths of Aphrodite. Complete with its own massive coastline and private beaches the complex attracts the rich and famous.
The other major predator of the Akamas threat is the Phodiates Group. It has applied for a huge hotel complex near Fontana Amorosa (Blue Lagoon) in the North West cape of Akamas. The area covers 1.3 million m2 with 3km stretch of pristine coastline. The master plan calls for an integrated 18-hole golf course, luxury hotels, a marina, and other luxurious facilities. The project has been put on hold on EU environmental issues.
Facing the old church of Ayios Minas before the Smygies picnic facilities, a massive fence has been put up to stop access to ramblers in preparation for another massive project in waiting.
Former president of the Republic, George Vassiliou Development Group, plans to develop above Peyia at Ayia Vouni multiple four-floor buildings with 145 apartments and 125 villas in the Akamas peninsula under the pretext of being an environmentally friendly “sustainable development project” – whatever that means! Bending the rules during his presidency has also been a contentious issue.
There are additional plans for the construction of a huge hotel complex and marinas at Aspokremmos, overlooking green turtle nesting sites and which is also peddled as a “sustainable development project” – that’s the magic new word used today to mislead the EU and the Department of the Environment.
Akamas is certainly ensnared – from north to south and the eastern front! It is only a matter of time before construction begins to transform this wonderful landscape in keeping with the rest of other concrete structures across the island. This is called “progress” in a land that has a great future ahead but which is being squandered away because of political favouritism.
But one of the most detestable enviro-criminalities of all is yet to come: the application of a permit for an open-pit quarry operation in Akamas itself! The new quarry would gobble up entire gorges in line with its sister quarries in Droushia and Androlikou at the foothills of the Akamas National Park.
Yet, no politicians or government officials have dared to take leadership and put a stop to this environmental catastrophe. Only when people’s apathy is overcome by their own conscience to speak out can it then offer a glimmer of hope to save Akamas. Meanwhile, the Rape of Akamas will continue without resistance!
Andreas C Chrysafis
July 24, 2016
Article Two – Quarries
Article Three – National Parks