Disasters: Natural and man-made

By Owei Lakemfa.

SOME  residents of the Greek holiday resort of Mati in the Rafina region might have thought what they were experiencing on July 24 was the fulfilment of the Biblical pronouncement thatGod will no longer destroy the world with water, but the fire next time.

For many, all they saw were fires racing towards them like a category five typhoon making a landfall. In minutes, the raging fires which were 15 metres high, had leaked homes and cars and burnt many. For some, the fire seemed to be raining from the skies. The official casualty figure this week is 91 dead and hundreds injured.

Luckily, the Aegean Sea was nearby, and many made a dash for the beach. At least, 25 bodies were found on the road leading to the beach; they did not make it. There was the case of  26 adults and children, who fled towards the sea. Perhaps due to very poor visibility, they missed the road and found themselves trapped over a cliff with the fire, hot on their heels. The two options they had were either get roasted by the fire or jump down the cliff to certain death. They got out of their cars, apparently hugged each other as if trying to shield themselves or in a joint prayer, as they faced a horrifying death. Amongst them was a mother with her child in her arms.

There wasn’t much of a succour for some who made it to the beach as hot ashes and debris falling from the sky, forced them deeper into the sea. It meant death for some even if they could swim. Many who made it to the sea, survived with over 700 rescued from the waves.

Nikos Stavrinidis and wife,  Rafina were at home when the fire sprang on them. He told the Associated Press: “It happened very fast. The fire was in the distance, then sparks from the fire reached us. Then the fire was all around us. We ran to the sea. We had to swim out because of the smoke, but we couldn’t see where anything was…We didn’t all make it…What upsets me and what I will carry in my heart is that it is terrible to see the person next to you drowning and not be able to help him. You can’t. That’s the only tragic thing. That will stay with me.” A Polish mother and her son holidaying at the Ramada hotel were evacuated with other tourists. They made it to the sea and were put in a boat which apparently capsized. They did not make it out alive.

BrianO’Callaghan-Westropp, an Irish, got married to his heartthrob, Zoe Holohan on July 19. His mother was very happy as she had lost one of her sons twenty years before, in a motorcycle accident when he was in his 20s. The couple went on honeymoon to Greece where the fire caught them. The fire separated the couple as they fled its rage. Zoe Holohan survived with non-life threatening injuries, but 49-year old Brian O’Callaghan-Westropp did not. His grieving mother had to fly to Greece, to retrieve the body of her son; the second she will have to bury in two decades.

What caused the twin fires may never be known as Protection Minister, Nikos Toskas threw in possible arson. But what is known is that climate change had produced a dry winter, a hot summer with temperatures of up to 40 degree Celsius, and hot, fast winds gathering a speed of 60mph. There was also the maintenance of a pine forest from which the first fire was reported. There was either no evacuation plan in the tourist town, or it was not activated. Also, many of the roads in the town are reported to lead to dead ends leading to gridlock as people tried to flee to safety.

Near the Northern California National Parks inUnited States, another fire,  the Carr Fire began raging as those of Greece were being brought under control. So far, eight persons have been killed,  the cost of the 900 homes destroyed has been put at $253 million, while the cost of suppressing the fires has surpassed $25million.

The suppression cost of the Ferguson Fire, which began 10 days before the Carr Fire has so far gulped over $64million. Perhaps Japan presented the most perplexing case for humanity when in July, it witnessed both flooding and heatwaves which killed over 300 persons. It began in the first week of the month when floods, accompanied by landslides, overran the Western and Central parts of the country killing some 220 persons. It was replaced in the second week by heatwaves of over 40 degrees Celsius which sent about 10,000 Japanese to the hospital for heatstroke symptoms. The following week, the casualties pending up in hospital rose to 22,000, while in the fourth week off July, it came down to 13,700 persons. In the same period in neighbouring South Korea, heat-related ailments sent  26to early graves.


The month of July was also quite devastating in Nigeria as floods swept through a number of states. In Katsina State, it killed 48 and displaced about 2,000. The floods killed eight in Niger State and an unspecified number in Ogun State including a food vendor, Halirat Akintobi and her two sons.  The Nigeria authorities attributed the disaster to global warming and shifting patterns of rainfall. In Kenya, flooding that began in March has so far killed 122 and displaced 222, 456persons.

Human beings have not treated the environment well. This has resulted in climate change. What we are witnessing is a ferocious fightback by nature. The Holy Books say God gave humanity dominion over the earth, but we have taken nature for granted and are realizing that dictatorship, impunity and arbitrariness cannot be tolerated not just by humans,  but also by nature.  The tragedy and immediate danger we face is that powerful people like the American President, Donald Trump, do not take climate change seriously, such people even think it is a scam.

Owei Lakemfa, former secretary general of African workers is a human rights activist, journalist and author.




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