Who will pick up the phone?

Who will pick up the phone?

No one was surprised by the public prosecutors’ report on the fire at Mati. The horrific death of so many people and the magnitude of the catastrophe were sufficient for us to be aware of the overwhelming negligence and lack of communication between officials on that dark day of July 23, 2018.

What the report highlighted, though, was that this dysfunction was not a chance event; every day is just as dangerous. It revealed a mentality of deep and lasting indifference, not only at the level of top officials but throughout the state machinery.

We know that at times of great danger, most of those whose job it is to help save people do so with a great sense of self-sacrifice. The air force, the fire brigade, the police, the first aid service, other services and volunteer groups have all lost many members who fell heroically while on the job. But when the prosecutors’ report on Mati shows that senior officials were totally confused, when it notes instances of criminal indifference to the plight of citizens, then it is clear that the moment of crisis simply highlights deeper problems in all their tragic dimensions.

At Mati (as we saw in the findings of the committee of experts led by Professor Costas Synolakis a few months ago) there was no overall plan to deal with such a fire, nor the necessary technical equipment, nor the necessary training, nor anything else that would have helped save lives.

Why was there no preparation, then? Why did the politicians who headed the relevant ministries and services, their management, their officers, their members not dedicate themselves to preparing for dangers such as this fire, or the flooding at Mandra, or any dangerous event? Why did no politicians or professional service members note these deficiencies? Did no one grasp the fact that preparations had to be made before the crisis, not when it was too late? Why was there no warning system for citizens, when EU funding was provided for this years ago? And, in perhaps the most damning question to arise from the prosecutors’ report: If a phone call would have been enough for people to escape Mati in time, albeit without an evacuation plan, why did no one warn them?

Whatever laws and regulations may say, the answer is that no one cared enough to ensure that it was perfectly clear who would make the phone call. The government officials and others now doing their best to shed their responsibilities had shirked them before the catastrophe. Only severe punishment – at the penal and political levels – of those responsible for the tragedy at Mati will focus the minds of those entrusted with protecting citizens’ lives. Then, maybe, we will see someone pick up that phone.

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