With the dead still unburied, with the eyes of the missing watching from their photographs, we can only feel shame for their fate and for our own responsibility. Without getting into the discussion on the chaotic construction of homes in forests, and whether there was a civil defense plan for Mati or not (issues which must, of course, concern us immediately), we face one bigger, merciless question: What can each of us do to prevent such a loss of life in future?
It is easy to get emotional now, as we face the horror, as we consider human frailty in the face of nature’s force, whether this be flooding in Mandra or fires at Mati. It is, however, one thing to feel pain for victims when we see what has befallen them, and another to be truly concerned with the life of our neighbor, and with the country’s good, so that each day we ask ourselves what we did to avert catastrophe. And what we did not do.
Aside from the moment of crisis, in which many showed a spirit of great sacrifice, did municipal employees, firefighters, police officers, the state’s specialists and politicians do all they could to draw up a plan capable of saving those who were lost? If not, why did they not ask for the obstacles to be swept aside, that the necessary legislation be passed and that exercises be conducted in the field to see what else may be needed? Did people bother their superiors with proposals? Did supervisors press their agencies to solve problems, to prevent disaster? At Mati we saw many heroic acts of salvation; how many more people would have been saved, though, if there had also been a workable plan?
Beyond Mati, all across the country we should ask ourselves if we are all doing all that we should. Are we cleaning our yard and public squares? Do we keep out of the emergency lane on highways? Do we demand the correct treatment of our garbage? Do we vote responsibly? Usually we just shrug as if the things that endanger us are natural phenomena that cannot be fixed. And so those who break the rules are sure of their impunity, and those who don’t care are not made to care.
When things take a turn for the worse, we blame each other for this. While we accuse others – unnamed arsonists, our neighbors, rival parties or the news media – we abdicate our own responsibilities. This applies whether we are government officials or private individuals.
Even though we could all undertake greater responsibilities, as active citizens, as volunteers, as voters, the greatest responsibility always rests with the authorities. Those who are in power today have had plenty of time to study the situation and come up with their own plans – or to name, specifically, whoever or whatever is holding them up.
The timely and orderly evacuation of 620 children from the City of Athens’s summer camp at Aghios Andreas shows that where there is a plan and a sense of responsibility, everything is possible. At Mati, which is right next door, we saw that when no one seeks solutions to obvious problems, an earthly paradise can turn into hell.