“We must use the wrath of nature as our teacher”—Bhumibol Adulyadej
Long before the earth became an abode for human beings, this planet went through many phases of natural occurrences—from the blazing ball of fire at birth to subsequent ice ages and now moving towards global warming. These periods were full of geo-physical transformations with massive earthquakes, tidal waves, emergence of mountain ranges resulting in the amazing topography that we now behold. Nature has a unique way of creating, destroying and re-creating, an evolving and continuous phenomenon that does not seem to have an end. There are some times of relevant peace and quiet but then at others, hell breaks loose as if an angry spirit knowing no bounds has taken over, sparing nothing and razing anything that comes in its path as it furiously rushes through forests, mountains and plains but as long as this hullaballoo was going on in an uninhabited world, it really did not matter.
As the human race opened its eyes to make the wild and beautiful earth its new home, it was confronted with the most daunting and perilous challenges. Today, with all the progress, inventions, discoveries and the ultra high-tech life-style, it is very difficult to imagine how the first set of people tackled disasters yet we have the knowledge about how our ancestors moved from era to era over-powering nature one way or the other; to establish their supremacy and command over the earth. If somehow the ancients can catch a glimpse of the twenty first century and what their descendants have achieved, watching their expressions would be worth a fortune.
Undoubtedly, humans have proved to be one of the most resilient creatures in the known history of living beings. They have managed to eventually conquer many aspects of not only earthly nature but even that of space and universe. They have subdued the seas by controlling their levels and reclaiming land from their clutches, delved into the secrets of the earth, harnessed the waywardness of rivers directing them to their advantage, cut across dense mountains to shorten routes connecting different cities, spanned across deep oceans with unbelievably constructed bridges, converted the world into a global village with astounding means of communication and transportation—one could just go on and on marveling at human beings’ talents and babbling about their achievements.
Albeit these accomplishments, there are some undeniable side effects of all these advancements that get unleashed when the ecological balance of the earth gets disturbed. During these moments when nature lashes back with a vengeance, human race comes face to face with its vulnerability and helplessness. By the way, it cannot absolve itself from the responsibility of causing different natural calamities, of course in addition to those that take place naturally. While interfering with what Mother Nature has to offer, sometimes humans go to illogical extents and in their greed, either go overboard or ignore vital aspects essential to maintaining environmental equilibrium causing dire consequences.
According to a UN report based on a study conducted by the academic and research arm of United Nations University that examined 10 different disasters that occurred in 2020 and 2021, it was observed that although they happened in very different locations and do not appear to have much in common, they were in fact interconnected. One of the report’s authors, UNU scientist Jack O’Connor said: “What we can learn from this report is that disasters we see happening around the world are much more interconnected than we may realize, and they are also connected to individual behaviour. Our actions have consequences, for all of us,”
Examples are plentiful, the chief being human-induced greenhouse gas emissions thanks to smoke emitting vehicles and large industries in the United States was linked to the formation of super cyclones like Cyclone Amphan that wreaked havoc in Eastern India in 2020; massive deforestation in the Amazon is connected to high global demand for meat leading to increased demand for soy that is necessary for producing animal feed. Like in many areas of the world especially Pakistan, hurting water cycle by over-mining of underground water and using artificial farming techniques has rendered the soil unfit for absorption of excess surface water resulting in unprecedented floods.
Unfortunately, when calamity strikes, it is the poor and helpless people who become the worst victims; their unprotected exposure to nature being the main reason thanks to irrational policies of insensitive rulers. Despite a regular occurrence of floods during the peak monsoon season, nothing concrete has ever been done to manage flow of excess water or build reservoirs to save for the ‘rainy days’. Even when three-fourths of the country is inundated in flood waters, hundreds of people have lost their lives, properties, businesses, livestock and agricultural crops have suffered massive damage, our ‘illustrious’ political leaders are settling their scores with one another wasting precious time and money in holding rallies and photo sessions in flood areas rather than using their resources to actively help in redressing flood victims’ problems. The dishonest too take advantage of people’s weaknesses while profiteers drastically increase prices of essential commodities while the administration appears totally impotent to either handle them or the crisis.
Knowingly that Pakistan is highly susceptible to floods, our so-called elected leaders are least pushed to consult experts (many are locally based) or make use of modern technologies to convert adversity into blessing. They have so far failed to deliver on any front but are quick to grasp the opportunity to beseech foreign institutions for aid. One wonders why some of them have sprawling palatial houses spread over acres in all important cities but resort to begging instead of churning out their wealth and resources in serious situations like the present one. Only the ordinary folk have the sensibility to rush to the aid of their fellow citizens. In the words of Maya Angelou: “It’s good to remember that in crises, natural crises, human beings forget for awhile their ignorances, their biases, their prejudices. For a little while, neighbors help neighbors and strangers help strangers.”
We sincerely wish that these words also have some motivational effect on our political leaders keen only on grabbing power for selfish purposes and at the expense of the poor.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)