Hungary: Baptist Aid Team in Action after Toxic Mud Catastrophe

Hungary: Baptist Aid Team in Action after Toxic Mud Catastrophe

Klaus Rösler - October 25, 2010

Budapest – When it comes to removing toxic slurry and offering emergency aid in their country, Hungarian Baptists are in the front lines. For a number of days after the dam of a giant toxic waste reservoir belonging to the firm MAL Hungarian Aluminium-AG burst, the West Hungarian village of Kolontar remained in the headlines of world media. A million cubic metric tonnes of red mud had inundated the village. Ten people died, hundreds suffered toxic burns and an area of 40 square kilometres was contaminated. An elderly Baptist woman was injured; her family’s farm in the neighbouring village of Devecser was destroyed. The woman remains hospitalised with chemical burns.

Those administering emergency aid included a 13-man team from Hungarian Baptist Aid (HBAid). The agency’s Director for Emergency Aid, László Pavelce, (he is also Operations Director of the Baptist World Alliance’s Rescue24 teams), was asked at the outset to start the search for missing persons and coordinate all rescue efforts. His team along with government services and the army evacuated the village’s 800 residents. Later, Baptists helped organise clean-up operations aimed at disposing of the toxic mud. HBAid was also involved in emergency distress counselling and the psychological care of victims. The Baptist counsellors, which numbered as many as eight, included HBAid’s President, Sandor Szenczy (Budapest).

HBAid was also involved in physical support of the suffering. Emergency aid valued at more than 100.000 euros was distributed, including foodstuffs, water, medicines and protective clothing. This agency along with Baptist congregations organised a national fund drive for the victims. Baptists intend to continue helping in the reconstruction of the village and the detoxification of the entire region. Baptist headquarters in Budapest informed EBPS that the country’s Baptists are requesting prayer as well as material aid. The toxic red mud is no natural catastrophe, but rather a result of human greed and irresponsibility. For that reason, one cannot reckon with help from the European Union. It is therefore particularly important that Christians express solidarity in a situation such as this one.

A week after their evacuation to a sport hall in the neighbouring city of Ajka, the first villagers were allowed to return home. Ecological watchdog organisations had warned unsuccessfully of a premature return, arguing that the dried mud could develop into an ultra-fine dust finding its way into the lungs when inhaling. The toxic slurry also reached the Danube River, but it was claimed that neither humans nor the environment were endangered there