Do places change in the wake of major disasters? And how do residents pick up the pieces and muster the strength to move on, to actually start their life from the beginning?
“The people are ahead of us,” says Stavros Benos, the topographical engineer and former politician who has been tasked by the government with setting out a plan for the economic regeneration of the island of Evia after the devastating summer wildfires.
“They want to fight, as long as we provide them with the tools to do so. As long as we provide the institutions and the citizens with the tools [they need],” he says.
The images of scorched earth in northern Evia are shocking. As winter approaches, the more than 50,000 hectares of deserted, wildfire-blackened landscape now also poses a threat. The island is at risk of fresh trouble. The teams set up by Benos are working round the clock to set up wooden flood barriers.
This is what the state authorities are doing for the day after. But what about society, what about us? What can we do to help, each according to their ability?
Donations, public-private partnerships, individual initiatives, the contribution of print and online media (such as the special report in Gastronomos magazine in Kathimerini this Sunday), even a road trip to the area or a brief visit is a precious sign of interest and care: Every little counts in the aftermath of a catastrophe which took such a hefty toll on the natural environment and people’s everyday life. Showing that you care, being present in any way possible, can help to ease the pain, the anger, the despair.
Listening to Benos as he lays out his plans for Evia’s resin collectors and beekeepers, his vision to turn the coastal town of Edipsos into a top destination for spa tourism, about the need to bring nature and culture together, makes you think that, yes, a place can really be transformed. A disaster can contain the seeds of salvation. The city of Kalamata in the Peloponnese, which was redesigned by Benos, then the city’s mayor, after the massive 1986 earthquake, is one such example.
On the other hand, you can’t help but think that the vision is romantic.
“Only the dreamers and the romantics have the passion to make their dreams come true,” Benos says. After all, his motto has been the same for years: Utopia is a premature truth.
And the truth is that volunteer work and personal involvement are not some kind of utopia.