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Ash across our world

By Owei Lamkemfa
MOST Kenyans like many  Africans might not know about Iceland or where to locate it on the map. I do not know if there would be a handful of Kenyans who would have heard of the jaw breaking name, Eyjafjalljokull volcano.

Yet, thousands of Kenyan agricultural workers were temporarily laid off this week due to the April 14  eruption of the volcano in Iceland. This had led to over five days  flight cancellation across Europe. The workers are mainly flower harvesters and the flight cancellation had led to the loss of three thousand tonnes of flower in Kenya.

Africans do not culturally express or tell love in flowers; they do so mainly in speech and physical terms. But Europeans do; they need or use flowers to express love, emotion or gratitude, and some of the best flowers in the world are those planted in Kenya. Being highly perishable, Kenyan flower has to be flown daily into Europe.

The flight cancellation means a huge loss of revenue which has led to immediate job losses. The irony in the Kenyan situation is that local flower planters in Europe who have been trying to block African flowers might see the volcanic eruption as God-sent.

But European farmers might not really  fare better as the ash forced many of them and their livestock indoors. In Iceland itself, the eruption has damaged or wiped out many roads, farmlands and infrastructure.

Jens Stotenberb is the Norwegian Prime Minister. He was trying to fly home from New York when the ash spread over European skies. Stranded, he turned his  airport seat into his office. Anxious to assure their citizens that the government is running despite Stotenberb being stranded, Norwegian officials posted his photograph at the American airport bent over his computer and titled it: “The Prime Minister is working at the airport”.

The Norwegian is not like the average Nigerian leader who would have seen the flight cancellation as a divine holiday or an opportunity to hit the town and do more shopping. He is conscious that he has a people that must be serviced even if the world is coming to an end. Although the flight problems are universal and he cannot be blamed for being stranded, he made desperate efforts to get back to his desk; he planned to fly to Madrid, Spain where there is some lift in the ash, and complete the journey overland.

Contrast the Norwegian leader’s action with that of President Umaru Yar’Adua  who four months after being laid down by ill-health, would not let go, preferring to tie 150 million people down to his sick bed. The different attitudes to governance is also the difference between a productive elite and a parasitic one. This is one of the reasons why Norway is developed and Nigeria is an underdeveloped country.

The ash also prevented the world from giving Polish President, Lech Kacznski and Maria , his wife a planned emotion-filled goodbye. World leaders like Barack  Obama of America and Angela Merkel of Germany could not attend the funeral as they could not fly to Krakow, Poland.

The president had perished in a plane crash in Russia along with a large chunk of the Polish society crème, including the heads of the armed forces, the Deputy Speaker and head of National Security. Ironically, they were in Russia to commemorate the seventieth year of the slaughter of 20,000 Polish patriots, including generals and intellectuals in the Katyn Forest, Western Russia.

The ash has left an unprecedented eight million passengers stranded in various airports. The immigration cannot be too concerned whether visas have expired, many stranded passengers are so broke that they cannot afford accommodation, or even food.

The media reported the case of a Briton, Mayank  Sharma stranded in Lagos who rang the British Airways requesting accommodation and the reply was: “It is an act of God and we are not responsible”. The cancellations would have ruined holidays, businesses and seriously affected tourism. The airlines who had been hit by the ‘financial meltdown’ cry that they lost $200 million daily to the crisis and that their countries should compensate them as America compensated airlines grounded as a result of 9/11.

The British Airways is particularly so worried, that it conducted a two and half hours test flight to show that the ash was no longer dangerous, but the European Union stuck to its guns. The first major signs of a thaw was on Tuesday when flights took off from New York and Amsterdam amongst a few places.

Tremors from the volcano had began on March 20, but it was not until April 14, it made its forceful announcement across the world when it  blew through 200  metres of ice, shooting columns of steam and ash into the air which reached a record height of eleven kilometres. The ash cloud quickly enveloped European skies forcing them to close their airspace.

It is not that aircraft cannot fly through it, but the fear is that it can affect the engines which are not designed to suck debris or corrosive gases. A Finnish F/A-18 plane that flew through it this week had its engine damaged. Air safety regulators are also worried that there can be a repeat experience of the 1982  BA 747  plane that flew into an ash cloud in Indonesia. Its four engines failed and the aircraft dropped 7,000 kilometres before they restarted it; even then, it had landing difficulties as the ash had turned the windscreen opaque.

Iceland was an idyllic country until its economy collapsed during the ‘meltdown’. Now, it is being identified with the ash. The ash across Europe demonstrated again that humanity is one; that if a part is sick, the other parts may not be immune. We have all caught the ‘ash flu’  The ash can also be a gift of penitence; that we have sinned against nature, engendered climate changes, that we no longer want to relate to our environment like armed bandits, and that we want to live in peace with nature.


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