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Nobody Is Safe When It Comes To A Natural Disaster – OpEd

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Imagine a large ship which contains all of humankind. People have divided the ship into nations and regions for reasons, historical and geographical. In the end it happens to be one ship. When a disaster strikes in one part of the ship it is bound to impact the other parts as well. If there are fools who think that a damage that occurs in another part of the ship is not going to affect them because they happen to be on the sunnier side, they’ll be surprised to find out that everyone is affected in the end. Nobody is safe when it comes to a natural disaster.

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That is the context in which we must understand the devastating floods in Pakistan. It is what is happening in one part of the ship. It doesn’t matter whether natural disasters happen in Australia or North America or parts of Africa and South Asia. We are all going to be affected by these events sooner or later. In other words, there are few alternatives to coming together when it comes to addressing natural disasters. Today it is Pakistan, tomorrow it could be India or any other country. It’s only one ship in the end that we are all travelling, guys! Destruction that happens in one country means that all of us sink sooner or later. Merely because you’re in the comfort of wealth and power, it doesn’t mean that you escape the consequences of natural calamities. Doesn’t matter which part of the globe that nature has chosen to strike a disaster, we all need to be worried and thinking about it. We cannot afford to pretend that we have nothing to do with it since it is happening in some place far away that I only encounter on television or on YouTube. Bear in mind the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs that we enjoy seeing in the Jurassic Park series. That’s a fair analogy as to what could happen to all of us.

The proverbial chickens are due to come home to roost. Unless we see the floods in Pakistan as a human disaster that could happen to anyone and everyone I don’t think there is hope for us as a species. We’ve to put aside our personal grievances and petty hatreds and work out a solution to alleviate the misery and suffering of the common masses.  

Reasons do not always have to be humanitarian. They could be as selfish as one’s own survival. But my survival is not going to be that of me alone. It is connected to the survival of everyone. If the ship sinks I go with the rest. Unfortunately, there is no option for me to stay and see the others go. When others go, I go too. For the most selfish of reasons we need to be concerned for our personal and group survival which also happens to be the survival of the species. In ensuring that Pakistanis are able to tackle the floods, I am ensuring my own survival because I am travelling in that very ship and if it sinks, it is not just parts of Pakistan but my family, friends and me that are going down.

Providing support to Pakistan by well-meaning individuals and governments from all parts of the world is simply a way of ensuring humanity’s survival. Nobody is expected to be charitable. Let the “selfish gene” prevail. For the most self-centered of reasons let me see what I could do to help the average Pakistani deal with the floods. In the process I am ensuring that my own future is guaranteed. I am not merely helping the Pakistani victim of the flood. I am helping myself in the event of a flood or any other natural disaster that could strike my own people. I owe it to myself and members of my social group and my nation that I bring out the human side of my character in order to ensure that immediate help is provided to helpless people trapped with families in a disastrous situation.

Whatever the political symbolism in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tweet (“Saddened to see the devastation caused by the floods in Pakistan. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims, the injured and all those affected by this natural calamity and hope for an early restoration of normalcy.”), in my view it ought to be taken at face-value by the Pakistani government as an opportunity to build bridges between the two nations. There has never in history been an alternative to lasting peace and brotherhood.

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Man-made boundaries are not natural boundaries. Everyone needs everyone else in the face of nature’s fury. Doesn’t matter if they happen to be black or white or brown or what religion they profess or political ideology they subscribe to. Oscar Wilde makes a decent point when he says, “Socialism would relieve us from that sordid necessity of living for others.” We don’t have to live for others. We only have to understand that we are a part of the others, we are in fact the others. Today the others are Pakistanis. Tomorrow the others could be Indians or Bangladeshis or people of any other country for that matter. There is absolutely no charity involved in helping Pakistan come out of this terrible crisis as a nation and as a society. We owe it to ourselves to do so.

Again Oscar Wilde: “It is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution of private property. It is both immoral and unfair.” Mass poverty of South Asians is a result of class exploitation. It is futile therefore to expect that the charity of the few who have accumulated wealth through questionable means is going to save the masses who are victims of disasters – whether man-made or natural. A system needs to be created that will do justice to the poor across the world, but, more so, in parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia. In the developed nations of the Global North there are individuals and institutions that work in humane ways with the poor. These things are unlikely in the third world where it is each person for oneself or one’s family and ethnic group. The rest are simply left to their own fate.

Invoking justice is a better way of dealing with the calamity than seeking charity. It is my human right that I am supported by my fellow human beings when I am in trouble that is beyond my control. By virtue of that very right I am under an obligation to stand by others who happen to be in a disastrous situation, not of their own making. It is only practical and realistic that in the name of justice and humanity there is a collective effort across the globe to ensure that Pakistan is able to deal with a flood of this magnitude because there is no guarantee that the waters are not going to engulf my part of the ship in the coming future.

On the more man-made side to the problem, South Asian nations are plagued by overpopulation and corruption. We need to have a population policy where each family cannot have more than one child. Most people do not have the resources to take care of even a single child. Not only do these families need to take care of their children but also their aging parents, who, thanks to modern medicine, tend to live longer than they used to a century ago. The hardships of these ordinary people defies the imagination. You can weep blood instead of tears but it is not going to make a difference to the plight of the weakest of the weak. 

The ignorance and backwardness of the masses actively promoted by political parties and organized religion is going to eventually make life impossible for everyone except the very rich who will find their way out of this disaster in no time, because they have a Plan-B. The rest of the population only has a Plan-A and we all know that the plan is to make common people guilty and responsible for their own tragedies so that they silently suffer the disastrous effects of climate change, pollution of the cities, poverty and violence of the streets, unemployment, inflation and the falling quality of living standards while hoping that things will eventually get better. That’s never going to happen unless ordinary people, with faith and conviction, dedicate a part of their day-to-day lives for such a change to take place. 

Prakash Kona

Prakash Kona is a writer, teacher and researcher who lives in Hyderabad, India. He is Professor at the Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.

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