Earthquakes, floods, droughts: Catastrophes compounded

On Friday last 15 April, a magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck Japan, causing widespread injuries (with about 35 people dead) and property damage.

Then on Saturday evening, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Ecuador on the other side of the Pacific, collapsing buildings and killing, as the tally stands today, more than 430 people. However, in Ecuador, the authorities are anticipating that the number of dead people is likely to rise because all the rubble has not yet been searched or cleared, and there are quite likely to be casualties lying underneath, with the chances of finding people alive diminishing the more there is delay in rescue efforts.

As the Japanese and Ecuador earthquakes were both large and damaging, and they occurred only days apart, it’s easy to assume there is a link as they both fall within what is known as the Pacific Rim. However, the time delay between the Japanese and Ecuador events ‘precludes any clear causal linkage on temporal grounds. Rather they are the natural consequence of the ongoing activity that surrounds the Pacific basin, in the so-called “ring of fire”, during a period of somewhat heightened seismic energy release’.

Floods in Texas

In Houston, Texas, flash floods three days ago overwhelmed the city, and leading to the loss of at least 5 lives so far. Nearly 1200 people have had to be evacuated to safety. An elderly person who was driving his car got caught in the flood while he was going under an overbridge, and his car was visibly sinking. He was undecided what to do, when a reporter covering the event called out to him, telling him to get out and swim, which he immediately did. As he reached the shallower part near the edge of the wide road the good Samaritan waded in and helped him walk to safety by holding his hand.

Drought in India

Out there in India, nature’s fury has caused the opposite of floods: drought. Nearly 330 million out of the country’s 1.25 billion people are estimated to be affected, the worse hit regions being the States of Maharashtra in the west and Telengana in the south. Rajasthan too is not spared. Besides dozens of farmers having committed suicide because of inability to pay back the loans they have taken as crops have failed, there have been several deaths due to the heat wave.

Most despairing is of course the scarcity of water – even for drinking purposes, a survival need, let alone for washing and cleaning. Underground water sources have dried up too and there are pictures of attempts to bore deeper and deeper – in one place, there was still no water to be found at a depth of 73 metres.

Further, there are harrowing scenes of small children – because of their lighter weight – being lowered into wells where small pools of water are visible from above, and coming up with barely enough water in vessels in their small hands. And of course with so many people affected, such attempts are paltry in terms of meeting the very minimum needs for drinking, not to mention cooking and so on.

In a bid to relieve this dire situation in a place called Latur in Maharashtra, the central government sent a ‘water train’ carrying half a million litres of water. This naturally brought a big sigh of relief to the inhabitants who had for days gone without any water, but there is one thing that was jarring and disturbing in the distribution: there were leakages of water at all the junctions where the large hoses connected to the outlets of the water reservoirs of the train.

After organizing a whole train to carry the precious liquid across the country, wasn’t such leakage a criminal waste, inasmuch as many more people could have received their supply? As it is, there were criticisms that some politicians were trying to score brownie points regarding this distribution. Perhaps instead of trying to have photo shots they ought to look at the ‘devil in the detail’ so as to eschew such unacceptable waste in this critical period – and, for that matter, all the time because these droughts are likely to be a regular feature.

What is the priority?

Everybody has their own priority, and while their countrymen are suffering and dying under such terrible conditions at practically their doorstep, the cricket cartel known as IPL was more concerned about playing its matches in Maharashtra. A hulaballoo was raised about the amounts of water that would be needed to keep the cricket pitches green, and when this happened the response was the typical political: shift the problem elsewhere!

To Rajasthan, to be precise. Where the people there are already struggling with their own water scarcity, and where a mother with tears in her eyes was narrating how her child was being lowered into a well to collect a meager amount of water of dubious potable quality.

To come back to the earthquake in Ecuador, the situation was compounded by the inaccessibility of several of the regions affected in the coastal zones. As it is, the roads leading there ran through difficult hilly terrain even in normal times, and many of them had been damaged so badly as to be impracticable for traffic. That delayed the arrival of rescue teams, and it goes without saying that many of these places were deprived of electric supply.

There was a risk of restoring electricity because of the possibility of fires and explosions due to the fallen and damaged lines, a further cause of difficulty in bringing the situation to normal, So too with supplies of food and water, and essential medicines reaching these places, increasing the fear of epidemics breaking out. This mirrored the situation that followed the Nepal earthquake two years ago, the consequences of which are still being endured by large swathes of the population. Sadly, these include child trafficking and prostitution by unscrupulous exploiters.

Even in Japan, which is better prepared and where seismic shocks are a fact of life, there were apprehensions about supplies reaching in time and in sufficient amounts. A makeshift ‘supermarket’ was set up by volunteers, and typical of Japan as when the tsunami occurred, people queued up dutifully to do their purchases.

If only Nelson Mandela’s wish could come true!

As if these natural catastrophes were not enough, in Afghanistan the Taliban, wishing to show that they were not as disorganized as was believed, hit at a government facility in Kabul, killing civilians and severely injuring others in hundreds. So much of hate! If only Nelson Mandela’s words could be put into practice! But no, unfortunately, hate rules the hearts of still too many.

This what he had said: ‘No one is born hating another person because of his skin colour, his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.’ Alas, such love doesn’t seem to…

* Published in print edition on 22 April 2016

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