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Facing Disaster


The death toll in the Turkiye-Syria earthquake crossed five thousand on Tuesday. Many nations have rushed to provide relief and rescue support, even those like Pakistan that are facing serious survival challenges of their own. It is the kind of disaster that brings out the best in humanity. And, yet, there are many other such challenges that do not evoke a similar response. In fact, while earthquakes cannot be prevented or even forecast effectively, so many of the problems that beset humankind at the present are easily preventable with similar goodwill.

Just a couple of years ago, the world came together in many ways to counter the Covid challenge. It was a display of nations’ ability to cooperate and network for a common goal. Attempts are on to combat global warming and consequent climate change through mutual cooperation. These problems have been recognised as threats to the planet’s very existence as a living entity. In the face of all this, however, human beings cannot get their act together enough to prevent pointless conflict, terrorism, short-sighted and stupid behaviour. What is the point of the war between Ukraine and Russia? Why is there no space for democracy in many nations around the world? What is this obsession with territorial expansion? Why does a boundary reduce the value of life on the other side?

Is the need to dominate a necessary part of evolution and survival? Have philosophy, science and the arts not progressed enough to direct humanity without the pressure of the baser instincts? These questions need to be just as seriously addressed as any calamity if the challenges of existence are to be overcome.

Has it to do with the quality of leadership, particularly in the political sphere? While almost every discipline requires intense training to achieve an acceptable standard, why does the quality of leader available be so poor? How are leaders to be graded and the necessary qualities identified? Why are failure, incompetence, even idiocy tolerated; and why is it so hard to find a suitable leader? Is too much power placed in the hands of a few? Should it be decentralised by empowering communities from the grassroots upwards? How is public discourse to be managed to give everyone a voice? Where are the good examples worth emulating? These questions need to be answered if self-made disaster is to be averted on the global scale and the real problems effectively addressed.