Struggling for survival

We must not be fooled by the queues of people pushing overladen caddies at supermarkets hide because the cruel reality is that a majority of people, especially those at the lower end of the economic scale, cannot afford to frequent such supermarkets

Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

Most educated people would have heard about the Theory of Evolution, which was formulated and propounded by the British naturalist Charles Darwin in the 19th century. He travelled round the world for about five years aboard the sailing ship HMS Beagle, collecting material (plant and animal) that he analysed and that led him to frame his theory. It is of interest that he also visited Mauritius during this voyage, staying a few days after arriving in April 1836.

In simple terms, the central idea of the Theory of Evolution is that living organisms have to compete for the resources in their environment to survive, and that only the fittest who possess traits which give them a comparative advantage over others survive. The advantage is that they are able to adapt to their environment. Thus it may be said to be a theory about the ‘survival of the fittest.’

Humans have emerged as a successful species that has been able to spread around the world by its capacity for adaptation in varied environments. In the wild, living organisms do not change their environments. But man’s intelligence and ingenuity have allowed him to do so, and so prolifically and excessively have humans done it that mankind is now having to face the consequences of this rampant overexploitation. They result from the one factor that underlies and links them all: climate change.

And this has posed new challenges to survival that have impacted even the fittest peoples and countries.

Even as this piece is being written, there’s news on the radio that the wildfires that have been raging across southern Europe for the past several days have spread to the famous touristic town of St Tropez in the French Riviera, forcing tourists to literally flee from their posh hotels and spend their night in makeshift, hurriedly organised set-ups so as to escape death. In other areas, local residents have had to run away to take shelter in their vineyards so as to be spared from the fury of the flames that were rapidly spreading. They watched helplessly as they saw the flames engulfing their houses.

Prior to that have been the graphic visuals that we have been seeing daily for weeks on end now about the fires causing death and destruction in Greece, apparently in a region rendered more prone because of the fir trees that grow there extensively, according to someone who knows the area intimately. And we have also been watching in horror the hundreds of thousands of acres of devastation by wildfire in northern California, where a whole township (Grenville) has been completely razed to the ground. The pathetic sight of one elderly lady who broke down watching the house in which she had spent her whole lifetime burning down in front of her very eyes was really overwhelming: she could not save anything, not even a single piece of her items of sentimental value. That’s what survivors and relatives of the block of apartments that collapsed in Florida a few weeks ago were trying to look for as well in the pile of rubble after the building’s crash.   

Over here, our problems are of a different kind.  In the highlands and central plateau we have been complaining about a harsh winter, of cold and rain that have been making lives miserable. But really, this is nothing compared to the catastrophes — fire, floods, earthquakes, wars – that are threatening the lives of populations elsewhere.

Our struggles may be on a lower scale, but they are no less real and hard to bear for a significant number of our population. The ongoing Covid pandemic may be largely responsible, but as it translates into the felt reality about, literally, bread and butter issues it strikes at the heart of the survival paradigm. The first lockdown that was imposed last year set the stage, as it were, for the later difficulties that have surfaced.

People need food, shelter and security. To meet this need they have to work. And once they get work, the next consideration is the affordability of food, the first basic of survival, and then that of shelter and the provision of security.

Undoubtedly a major concern, and worry, for people recently has been the cost of food, which has led to public protests by consumer groups. However much people may be earning, any rise in the price of basic foodstuff has an immediate impact on the purse which is acutely felt by the sections of the population at the lower end of the socio-economic ladder.  In spite of all the official assurances given, these groups have definitely been more severely hit by the increase in food prices across the board. 

This has implications for those who have small children to feed, because food scarcity is known to affect adversely brain development and maturity, besides the negative impact on the child’s growth generally. These have measurable consequences on the child’s educational attainment and other developmental parameters, and as children are the future of a country the overall societal impact is substantial.

We must not be fooled by the queues of people pushing overladen caddies at supermarkets hide because the cruel reality is that a majority of people, especially those at the lower end of the economic scale, cannot afford to frequent such supermarkets. When people with average means are grumbling about costs, how much more difficult things are for those whose means are even more limited?

Unlike those unfortunates who are the victims of major catastrophes and whose very survival is at stake, we may consider ourselves to be safer. Nevertheless, this safety is relative, and as a country we must ensure that there is no such disparity that significant numbers of our population find themselves struggling to have enough to put on the table, with all the stress and the distress that this causes. There is already more than enough of both in every other aspect of our lives, courtesy Covid-19, and our leaders are duty-bound to be vigilant about and take all the necessary policy decisions and measures that are indicated to fulfil the people’s basic needs.

* Published in print edition on 20 August 2021

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