After the cries of despair come the calls for help and the need for long-term support. The victims of the lethal inferno that devastated eastern Attica on July 23 don’t just need words of solidarity but deeds too. Beyond the political confrontation, the resignations of officials, the observations made by experts – all of which are set to continue – authorities must provide support for those who were seriously injured, as well as those who saw their property go up in smoke.
The Greek state is called upon to provide assistance. Already, authorities have announced several decisions and pledges. Time will show whether the relief measures are sufficient and in the right direction. That said, the state cannot and should not do everything. Help should also come from the private sector.
Apart from people in Greece, there are also millions of diaspora Greeks who want to participate in the relief effort. Some groups have already sprung into action. The American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), the largest Greek-American organization in the United States, urged its members to mobilize and provide emergency relief for Greek wildfire victims. The Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) launched a relief effort in partnership with the Chicago Sister Cities International - Athens Committee. Similar campaigns have been initiated by many other organizations, including outside the US (although that is where the biggest, most well-off section of the diaspora lives).
There are individuals with the capacity and willingness to provide help. The problem is that given the chronic failures and unreliability of the Greek state apparatus, there are serious doubts whether the assistance can be administered in a transparent and sound manner.
On a practical as well as a symbolic level, the identity of the person who should be selected to coordinate such a project is of great importance. An early choice was an unfortunate one and was quickly withdrawn.
This appointment presents the authorities with an opportunity to make a decision on the basis of meritocratic criteria, picking the right person for the right position, a person who enjoys the approval of the political opposition and Greek society.
The caliber of that person must reflect an understanding of the significance of the disaster’s magnitude and the work that must be undertaken in its wake. Ideally, that person would be someone who transcends partisan politics and enjoys recognition that would safeguard him/her against doubts and misgivings. The more respected and capable he/she is, the more effective the administration of the aid funds will be. This would facilitate the fundraising campaign since many people – certainly among the diaspora – have become very skeptical about the Greek authorities, and rightly so.