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    Volume 9 Issue 17| April 23, 2010|

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Straight Talk

The Wrath of Ashes

Nadia Kabir Barb

Last week Europe found itself helpless against the wrath of Eyjafjallajökull No this is not a typing error on my part nor one made by the The Star Magazine. In fact this is the name of the volcano that erupted in Southern Iceland last week and caused havoc not just in its surrounding areas where hundreds of locals had to evacuate their homes but also throughout the whole of Europe. The volcanic ash spewing from Eyjafjallajökull was said to be drifting in a cloud extending up almost 30,000 feet and stretching across much of northern and central Europe. Sitting thousands of kilometers away in the UK, even we were not spared.

Mankind may have flown to the moon and back, made huge technological advances and scientific progress, in fact generally we may believe ourselves to be superior to all other living creatures but in spite of this when Mother Nature speaks, we listen. She does not discriminate against colour or creed or race or religion. Maybe every now and then we need a lesson in humility and this is just the latest in a long spate of natural disasters occurring across the globe in recent years. Though it must be said although it has caused widespread misery for travellers and passengers, I have not read or heard of any fatalities either in Iceland or elsewhere due to the eruption.

However, what has occurred is that the force of the eruption from Eyjafjallajökull, has carried the volcanic ash, upwards into the North Atlantic jet-stream that passes over the island near one of the world's busiest flight paths disrupting thousands of flights across the continent and leaving millions of people stranded, some unable to return home and others unable to leave for weddings, honeymoons, funerals, family reunions, or just holidays. The volcanic ash is said to be a potential threat to plane engines and in the UK and other countries all flights were cancelled for almost a week. To give you an idea, the Guardian reported there were an estimated 40,000 Britons stranded around the world and that is not taking into account any other nationals from other European countries!

Some people have taken extreme measures and taken any possible form of transport and made their way back. British actor John Cleese was said to have taken a taxi all the way from Norway back to the UK which cost him in the region of £3000 and Singer Whitney Huston ended up taking a public ferry to get to Ireland for a concert.

A group of students from my daughter's school were on a field trip in Greece and ended up having to stay indefinitely as they still have no idea when they will be allowed to fly back. There are numerous schools in the same predicament where students and teachers have been unable to return home. Needless to say that as with thousands of travellers, extra nights in a foreign country is an expense that not everyone can afford. Some schools have also had to close in the UK as many of their teachers (and students) are stranded abroad.

I have read about numerous transplant patients who have been unable to receive treatment as the donor organs need to be flown to the UK. This included a toddler who was waiting for a bone marrow transplant but was unable to get the necessary treatment as the donor cells had to come from Canada.

There was a story about a couple who had their dream wedding planned but had to get married over the internet as they could not be with each other on their big day.

This whole situation is unprecedented and according to the British Airline Pilots' Association (Balpa), “This is not the first volcanic eruption that there has been in the world, but it is the first time that there has been the closure of so much airspace, for such a prolonged period and with no end in sight”.

Even when the flight ban is lifted, it is going to be a Herculean task to try and get the backlog of passengers to their rightful destinations.

It is quite daunting to think that in an economy which is still struggling to get back on its feet, this is yet another devastating blow considering that the flight ban is estimated to have cost the European travel industry more than £1 billion.

It is not just the travel industry that has been affected. In Kenya farmers are unable to export their flowers and vegetables to Europe which is affecting their livelihood. Other perishable produce such as cheeses are also not being shipped from within Europe. FedEx, DHL and other shippers are also grounded throughout much of the Europe. These are just a few examples of the extent of the chaos culminating from the volcanic eruption. The smoke plumes rising from Eyjafjallajökull have had far reaching consequences that extend beyond just its local inhabitants.

I think Eyjafjallajökull has shown us how helpless we are in the face of natural disasters and all the that can be done is for the European Governments to try and get people back home to their respective countries safely and begin to clean up the mess caused by the volcanic ash both metaphorically and literally...


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