The critical environmental and sustainability issues of Greece:
- Economic Problems and National Debt
Greece has been in economic turmoil for most of the last decade. Years of financial mismanagement alongside a culture of clientelistic politics, where goods and services were exchanged for political support, culminated in a long-term recession.
One of the most concrete consequences of the crisis is the number of young people that have left the country. In 2016, about 20,000 people aged between 25 and 29 left Greece and 14,000 others aged between 20 and 24 also left the country in the same year. The main cause for this was a lack of employment opportunities.
Greece’s consolidated gross government debt rose five percentage points to 181.1% of GDP in 2018. In 2018, the national debt in Greece was around 375.74 billion U.S. dollars. The nation’s continuous rise in debt has overwhelmed its estimated GDP over the years, which can be attributed to poor government execution and unnecessary spending.
At 31.8%, about one in every three Greeks runs the risk of poverty or social exclusion. The poverty risk for children aged up to 17 years old was 22.7% in 2018. Data also showed that more than half of households are unable to cover an emergency expense (51.4%) or have a one-week holiday (50.7%). Nearly one in four (22.9%) cannot afford satisfactory heating and 11.8% face nutrition deprivation.
The major reasons for rising poverty are pension cuts, income slashes and the high rate of taxes. Corporate tax in Greece is currently 28% and the highest level of income tax is 45% for those earning above 40,000 euros a year. But citizens are still taxed 22% for the first 20,000 euros they earn in a year and 29% for anything between 20,000 euros and 30,000 euros. The standard value-added tax on goods is 23%.
Data also revealed that the income share of the richest 20% of the population was 5.5 times more than the share of the poorest 20% of the population in 2018.
Greece’s unemployment rate is still the highest in the euro zone at 16.8% in September of 2019, compared to 18.8% in September of 2018.
The unemployment rate among those aged between 15-24 years is 32.4%; 25-34 years is 23.3%; 35-44 years is 14.5%; 45-54 years is 13.6%; 55-64 years is 13.6%.
The unemployment rate among those aged between 15 and 24 was 43.6% in 2017, compared to 18.8 percent in the euro zone. More than 400,000 skilled young Greeks have moved abroad to work, in search of a better salary.
The jobless rates in comparison to 2018 have declined for both genders, but was lower for men (13.7 percent versus 14.9 percent) than for women (20.8 percent versus 23.7 percent).
Despite the recent decline, Greece’s rate is still over twice the average for European Union nations(6.3%) and the Eurozone(7.5%).
- Mental Health and Suicide
Poverty soared as the Greek economy contracted by a quarter and unemployment hit 27% in 2013. The percentage of the population suffering from depression for one month or longer rose from 3.3% in 2008 to 12.3% in 2013 and suicide rates jumped by 40%. At the same time, funding for mental health services was cut by more than half with psychiatric hospitals getting overwhelmed and understaffed.
The suicide rate then dropped in 2016 and 2017, police figures show, only to rise again in the first 10 months of 2018, according to police figures that also show that suicides among those ages 22 and under more than doubled. The mental health organization Klimaka reported a 30 percent rise in calls to its suicide hotline in 2018, and a comparable rise in visits to its day center.
Suicide was a rare occurrence in Greece and even with the spike during the crisis it is relatively low in Europe, with five per 100,000 people compared with a region-wide average of 15.4, according to World Health Organization data for 2016. But the rate of increase is high, jumping from 3.3 per 100,000 to 5 between 2010 to 2016.
- Waste Management
Economic growth is pursued at the expense of environmental policy. The huge inflow of tourists creates a waste-management problem that is not well managed. More than 70 percent of marine litter is plastic in Greece. WWF has reported that Greece produces 700,000 tonnes of plastic per year, or 68 kilos per capita. Out of that, 11,500 tonnes end up in the sea, it said. The government readily admits that nearly 40 tonnes of plastic waste ends up in Greek seas every day.
Greece continues to pay millions of euros in fines to the European Commission concerning the operation of illegal landfills. Garbage disposal and recycling is now viewed as a major issue in Greece, and particularly on all the Greek islands.
Mykonos Island houses an illegal dumpsite, where the mountain of waste has reached a height of 30 meters. The dump threatens the coastal ecosystem, as contaminants from the rubbish are carried away directly into the sea after every rainfall.
The European Commission has also sent a stern warning to Greece claiming it is violating EU environmental laws with regard to waste management on the Ionian island of Corfu, with waste no longer being collected or treated on the island and being left on the streets.
The coastal town of Aigio is also threatened due to 5,000 tons of garbage dumped on the town’s outskirts, including at popular beaches such as Selianitika and Akoli, posing a serious public health risk.