Eclipse 'disaster' looms

Large numbers of South Africans could suffer serious eye injuries during the eclipse over the country on December 4 because of a shortage of eclipse viewing glasses, a company involved in preparations around the event warned on Thursday.

WildNetAfrica, a Pretoria-based internet publishing company specialising in wildlife and tourism, has appealed to big business to sponsor a bulk order of protective cardboard glasses.

The country’s main manufacturers need to begin making the glasses within two weeks to ensure there are sufficient glasses for all South Africans, WildNetAfrica special projects director Andrew

McKenzie said.

WildNetAfrica is represented on the Limpopo province’s official eclipse coordinating company.

“All of our research… indicates that a major disaster is looming,” McKenzie said.

“While there may be plans which were not revealed to us, we have found that firm orders have been placed for less than one-million eclipse glasses. And that for a country with a population of 40-million!”

McKenzie said that a number of people, including children, suffered permanent eye damage during last year’s partial eclipse because they had looked directly at the sun for a prolonged period without protection.

“Last year’s eclipse resulted in a last minute panic as government departments and provinces made a last-ditch attempt to protect people, especially those in rural areas who are not well prepared to avoid the potentially life-changing effects of looking at the sun during an eclipse,” McKenzie said.

This year, a total eclipse will be visible over parts of Limpopo with a partial eclipse visible over other parts of the country.

An initiative currently running in the Northern Cape is able to produce 500 000 glasses before December 4 but WildNetAfrica doubts this will meet the country’s needs.

The glasses can be locally produced at between R1 and R3 each.

If the country fails to produce sufficient glasses it may have to import large quantities at a much higher price, McKenzie said.

WildNetAfrica is particularly concerned about eclipse watchers in rural areas that have been excluded from efforts to educate people on how to view the eclipse safely.

McKenzie invited companies who are interested in participating in a joint eclipse glass initiative to contact him on 012-991-3083.

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