Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

The butterfly effect

Adelina Marini, photos: Eva Manasieva, October 7, 2010

While I was waiting for my colleague Eva Manasieva to send me the photos from her visit in the Hungarian village of Deveczer, the worst hit by the toxic flood, I went out on the balcony and stared at the city trees across. I thought what would happen if right now, while I'm standing, my street gets flooded with red mire, two meters high, turns all the cars over and on top of it consists of toxic chemicals and heavy metals. In fact, this is the biggest problem - for us to imagine how exactly the disaster looks like, to "feel it" - the wet, the cold, the smell of chemicals which corrode skin, fences, kills plants and animals, all the fish in the nearby river.

I imagined how I stand with a shovel in my hand and rubber boots, digging the red toxic mire away from the staircase of my house and, while I stop for a short break, I realise that I will never live in that house again. Not that I don't want to, I cannot. And I cannot because the soil within a 40 square km radius in the area of the disaster, is intoxicated, all the flora and fauna is dead, the water is intoxicated, the house will soon corrode and one day will fall down.

The facts

On Monday, around noon, seven villages in the Hungarian municipality of Kolontar were flooded by a two meters high wave, caused by a failure of the liquid chemicals repository of an aluminum factory in the Hungarian town of Aika. Four people are dead, over 113 are wounded, those who are still unaccounted for are six, according to the data of the WWF. The worse thing is that those who do not seem wounded or affected are not sure whether they will not start having spots on their skin, wounds, or stomach problems from the inhaling of toxic vapours. All the fish in the Marzal river is dead and as of this morning the flood reached the Danube river near the Hungarian town of Gyor.

The Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban visited the place today, three days after the disaster, and said that there was no sense in vesting any efforts in repairing the damaged houses. It would be best if entirely new villages are built.

Feeling of a disaster

When we listen or watch such news we often feel them being distant, that they do not affect us. Yes, we might be very impressed but, anyway - we do not feel the smell, the dampness, we are not forced to sleep in tents or in the municipal school. We do not wonder where to find money from for the mineral water we from now on have to drink, or to buy new clothes because the old ones are already corroded with the chemicals. And this is the biggest problem - we rarely realise the scale of a disaster. Same thing was with the disastrous floods in Pakistan. Yes, it's true that the Bulgarian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, together with the red Cross, opened a campaign for raising aid. A text message and we're done. We're not

because what if this could happen at home?

This was the second question that bothered me while I stared at the inspiring a feeling of eternal serenity October rain, the slow tearing off of the dry leaves from the twig near my balcony and the slight tremble of the still not turned yellow leaves by the falling small rain drops. Yes, indeed, what if such a disaster would hit us? This question is very important for several reasons.

First, Hungary is not doing well for several years. There too the transition from a socialist economy to a market one with elements of EU membership, appeared to be difficult and painful. This is why the Hungarians elected socialists to rule them, who lied about the huge debt and the country was on the verge of bankruptcy. It was just that they have elected a right-wing government and this disaster happened.

Second, according to Hungarian sources, the aluminum factory in Aika was not dealing with aluminum only. This is why there were rumours of increased levels of radiation and concentration of metals with hard-to-pronounce-names in the red mire. For now the suspicions are not being confirmed by the local authorities. This fact, as well as probably the lack of regular reviews of the chemicals repository of the factory, is the reason for the ecological disaster. Something, with which we are very well aware here too - the lack of control, the lack of sanctions, lack of recommendations to be followed because no one is thinking - well, if I now close my eyes for a factory, isn't it possible tomorrow a disaster to make my family leave or even destroy them.

In the worst hit village from the toxic flood Deveczer other things were impressive as well, typical for an underdeveloped country. The security measures for cleaning when leaving the affected area are below any standards. As our colleague Eva Manasieva told us, people wash their boots with a hose, dirty all over with mud, with which they also wash their hands and faces.

What is this a responsibility?

For now it is not clear what kind of responsibility the factory would take, nor the state. The question with responsibility however goes very much beyond the boundaries of Hungary and human society in general. While I stand and watch the tree across with the falling rain drops on its leaves I continue deliberating - what if this tree tomorrow is destroyed by acid rain, toxic mud, or a lousy driver who is pouring his car oil onto its roots, who will take a responsibility for the tree? And how about the dead birds, animals, bugs, crawling creatures under and above the soil? The responsibility for our actions or inactions should not only be in terms of ourselves or the state. It should be a responsibility for the environment we inhabit together with all its creatures, because of the butterfly effect.

You can see all photos from Deveczer by clicking on each one to right of this text.