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Our View: Communities of Vassiliko area have every right to protest

Συντον. Επιτροπή των εννέα κοινοτήτων περιοχής Βασιλικού Έκτακτη διαμαρτυρία στο λατομείο Βασιλικού

It’s hard to blame the residents of the nine communities in the Vasiliko area for going out to protest on Monday at the place where a mountain of tyres was still smouldering two days after a fire started there on Saturday afternoon.

Not only is their area a host to the main power station that blew up 11 years ago next month but they also have the cement plant and the so-called ‘energy hub’ to contend with, plus the government wants to relocate two asphalt plants there after a ruckus by residents of Dhali and Yeri concerned about their own health.

The old tyres that caught fire, spreading a cloud of black toxic smoke that could be seen for miles, was the last straw for them.

Worse, the audit office revealed in a report last year that the company ‘recycling’ the tyres, were claiming to have processed them but had not, even though Cyprus was telling the EU they had been processed.

Ironically, the tyre dump had been moved from Dhali after a decision taken in 2017, with residents of Vasiliko having been given assurances there would be no danger to their health.

According to the mayor of Kalavasos at Monday’s protest, residents had been suffering the ill effects of the smoke from the fire for two days and there was “not a single phone call to let us know if there was a risk, or instructions for people to confine themselves to their homes, or even evacuating our communities”.

There was in fact a small note with instructions from civil defence sent out by the Press and Information Office (PIO) more than five hours after the fire was already at its worst, advising people to stay indoors, though common sense would dictate this as the appropriate course of action, without the need for government guidance. A decision to evacuate, would have been the responsibility of the authorities.

It might be hard to understand that a government that cares so much about the health of its population when it comes to Covid, even issuing guidance and warnings for the holiday weekend, does not go all out when it comes to other health threats.

There was no announcement on Saturday from the health ministry on how these residents could protect themselves from respiratory harm. If ever there was a time to tell people to wear a mask, this was it, even as a token gesture.

The reason factory fires are played down is because the state does not want to look at whether it is also partly responsible due to a lack of oversight when it comes to factories, so authorities just ‘reassure’ people there is no danger. They said the same on Monday.

Last August, there was a huge factory fire in Yeri but people in the vicinity were told by authorities that the toxic smoke had not affected the air quality. However, this claim was contradicted only two days later by University of Cyprus researchers, who had measured the air quality in affected villages and found the opposite to be true.

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