Article by Elena Tzamouranou, co-founder of Dock

As the challenges of climate change rise, Greece is facing an alarming increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires. Annually, these fires threaten not just our environment, but also the livelihoods and lives of countless individuals. With little to no preventative strategies in place and a reliance on mass evacuations, smaller communities especially feel more than overlooked they feel abandoned. Many are compelled to protect their homes and become the primary defense against these fires, often without essential knowledge or support.

Our project “Dialogue and Action against Wildfires” recognizes this pressing challenge and offers a proactive, participatory solution. By championing a strategy that resonates with the European Green Deal’s emphasis on environmental protection and social justice, we aim to bridge inequalities, placing the affected communities at the heart of the topic. The collaborative effort involves four partners, three of which are SSE initiatives, each bringing specialized expertise. From wildfire experts to local representatives, a united front is being formed. More importantly the participatory action research methodology that will be followed ensures that every step we take is in tune with the community’s needs and aspirations. It’s not about providing solutions by external experts; it’s about co-creating them, through a continuous dialogue ensuring that every voice, especially the most marginalized ones, finds representation in the actions. To conclude, our approach offers more than just a response to wildfires; it represents a transformative shift in disaster management, built on inclusivity, collaboration, and an unwavering commitment to the community.

To grasp the essence of the initiative, it’s essential to familiarize oneself with the Municipality of Messini, the project’s focal area known for its vulnerability to the devastating effects of wildfires. Within this region, four villages were identified, each showcasing its own distinctive blend of natural significance and the complexities involved in fire management. Ancient Messene is recognized for its rich archaeological heritage; Manganiako, with its picturesque walking trails, played host to our earlier Dialogue and Action for the Future” project; Trikorfo a symbol of continuity as it boasts the only school among these villages; and the small yet pivotal village of Koromilia, strategically positioned to protect the invaluable wildlife of Kalligas.

But, as these landscapes were explored, we’re reminded of the challenges they face. Once buzzing and thriving communities now grapple with abandonment. Many of the younger generations have sought opportunities in cities or even abroad, leaving behind an aging population to face challenges often on their own. And this is where our “extended family” of stakeholders comes in, since we believe and practice collaborations across the ecosystem and this is also what we want to do in this project. Our collaboration with local communities provides the bedrock of the chosen strategy. Their insights, born from lived experiences, are irreplaceable. In addition, partnering with forest rangers, fire brigades, environmental NGOs, and regional authorities, we weave a comprehensive network essential for informed, responsive strategies that align with environmental and policy objectives. This united front serves as the foundation of driving toward a future where ecosystems and communities thrive in harmony, fortified and resilient.

Within the forthcoming 10 months, the project aims to establishing a multidisciplinary advisory group, crafting, and implementing collaborative, hands-on disaster response simulations, stimulating open community dialogues that confront vulnerabilities and matters of equality and ethics, and channeling tailored policy recommendations to decision-makers at the local and regional tiers. The envisioned impact is to establish a more inclusive, democratic, and community-led approach to wildfire prevention and response, with an emphasis on scalability both geographically and methodologically, long-term sustainability, broad-reaching influence, and enhanced accessibility through open-source materials.

In summary, the essence of the project lies in a foundational belief: resilience cannot be forced from top to down directives but must be built within the collective strength of communities. As described, the approach is grounded in the principles of mutual respect, learning, and shared ownership, while the societal impact of the initiative goes beyond immediate wildfire management. By empowering communities with knowledge and tools, we are fostering not just the protection of their territories but also a significant behavioral change. This shift in behavior, stemming from informed choices and a sense of agency, will be the cornerstone in creating sustainable communities.

The idea for the project took part in the ACCTING (AdvanCing behavioural Change Through an INclusive Green deal) competition and was awarded among 135 proposals. ACCTING is an EU-funded project that analyses the impact of Green Deal policies on vulnerable groups and produces knowledge and innovations to advance behavioural change at individual and collective levels. Twelve partners – supported by a wide network of researchers – collect, analyse, and translate extensive data into a new research agenda, policy recommendations, and innovative pilot actions for an inclusive and equal EU Green Deal.

Find out more & get in touch!
Project Description: