August 15, 2022

Raven Tribune

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First Heat Officer in Athens: “Silent Killer”

Status: 08/04/2022 10:33 am

Athens struggles with extreme temperatures every summer. Climate change will continue to warm the Greek capital. Europe’s first heat commissioner is looking for solutions from 2021 – and wants to use ancient inventions.

Verina Schalter, ART Studio Athens

Arranging a face-to-face meeting with Eleni Myrivili was not easy. Because as Europe’s first heat official, she is a much-loved woman: sometimes she lectures at the famous TED conference in Vancouver, sometimes she meets scientists in Barcelona or Lisbon.

Ultimately it works with a personal interview. As a rendezvous, he suggests a small park at the foot of Mount Lycabettus in Athens. Sitting on a bench in the shade of large deciduous trees, with a cafe freddo in hand, she recounts her struggle against the heat in the Greek capital, which is consistently the hottest in the entire continent during the summer months.

More green spaces and healthy ecosystems

“We were able to build a city with 80 percent asphalt and cement,” he says. “So, things that absorb heat first and release it back at night. We need to change that by creating lots of green spaces, lots of shade trees and generally healthy ecosystems that cool the city.”

Climate change and its consequences have long been his topic. The 60-year-old was a professor of anthropology, chair of the Greens and deputy mayor of Athens until 2019. He has been the city’s official heat officer since July 2021 — not always an easy job.

Added to this is drought

Myrivili continues, like many cities around the world, as public space is given over to cars. But you need to create more pedestrian zones and natural landscapes in the city.

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But there is another problem: in Athens, not only is it very hot in summer, but it does not rain for a long time, which means that the green areas have to be irrigated. But she also has a plan for this: Mairivili wants to reactivate one of the most important infrastructure projects of ancient times in Athens – the Roman emperor Hadrian’s aqueduct from the second century AD.

Every day, 800,000 cubic meters of fresh water from the mountains north of Athens flows unused into the sea through a pipeline more than 25 km long. An ambitious project – but necessary, “If you don’t cool the city, more people will die every year,” says Mairivili.

Mortality increases

Heat waves and extreme increases in temperature, especially in urban areas, are referred to as the silent killer here, Myrivili says, because statistical evidence shows that mortality increases more sharply as heat increases.

However, the majority of deaths have not yet been recorded by any statistics, with heart attack or stroke officially named as the cause of death. People over 65, pregnant women, infants and young children, and those who have to work outdoors are particularly vulnerable.

It gets even harder

“We expect conditions in Greece, Athens and urban environments in general to be very difficult in 2050,” continued Myrivili. “In general, the eastern Mediterranean is one of the most vulnerable regions in relation to warming.”

Mairivili has to go back to the town hall – she has an office there, but no staff other than a secretary. It is not in their hands that specific projects are actually implemented. Your job is to explain, warn, and if necessary annoy, that Athens will be livable in 30 years.