Thursday, August 12, 2010

Flooding in Pakistan Meets Humidity in Minnesota

The tropical heat here in Minnesota, and the recent flooding in Pakistan have me thinking about weather's continued impact on human life. Many of us living in post industrial nations like to think that we have plucked much of weather's fangs with all our technology and whatnot. And yet, that really isn't the case. In fact, you might say that the fact that people rush into air conditioned buildings on hot, humid days like today points to the fact that the weather is still more powerful than any of us.

It's also the case, though, that those in poverty, are negatively impacted by weather much more than the wealthy. Poor individuals in rich nations get hit harder, and poor nations suffer far more damage, injuries and deaths from storms and earthquakes than rich nations do. According to FEMA, there have been 63 "declared disasters" in the United States this year. Certainly, these disasters have caused a lot of damage, suffering, and even some human casualties. And yet, when placed side by side with what's happened in Pakistan, or what happened earlier this year in Haiti, the collective destruction across the U.S. probably still doesn't come close.

The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting report today about the disparate effects the flooding there is having on people of differing socioeconomic backgrounds.

Desperation is growing among those too poor to evacuate this agricultural town in the heart of Pakistan’s Punjab Province, where the worst flooding in 80 years has decimated crops and homes and forced the evacuation of some 250,000 residents, according to the town’s chief official.

As the flood waters continue to spread south, the Pakistani government has issued fresh warnings to towns in southern Punjab and Sindh affected by the overflow of the Indus River, which runs the length of Pakistan, as well as rising levels in the Chenab River, upon which the town of Muzaffargarh is located. Pakistan’s Flood Forecasting Bureau has said that flooding is expected to peak Aug. 14.

The calamity has brought into focus the stark divide between the rich and poor in Pakistan. Those with their own transportation, or the means to hire rented trucks, began leaving the town at the start of the week, and nearly all shops, offices, and banks are now closed. But some 100,000 residents remain homeless and stranded.

This is so sadly reminiscent of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Those with the means got out before the flooding occurred, while the vast majority of those who died were basically too poor to get out until it was too late.

At least 1600 people have died in Pakistan already, and over 10 million lives are currently being impacted by the floods. You can bet those most in danger are people on the bottom, who were just surviving before the disaster hit, and now are fighting for their lives.

If anyone knows of any quality aid organizations readers can donate to, or give their time to, to help the people in Pakistan, please offer your ideas in the comments section. I've become pretty cynical about the big aid players in the world, and frankly don't have any good answers as to how one can offer support for these struggling folks.

I'd like to suggest that readers of this post take some time to reflect on how the material wealth you have, individually or collectively in your nation, offers you support and protection from the storms in ways that those with little or none of that wealth don't have. Furthermore, go beyond that and try and imagine a world where those things which offer protection from storms might be more evenly distributed. What would it look like? How would it feel? What might you have to give up personally or as a community/nation in order for such a world to be possible?

I honestly don't believe we humans will become immune from the weather anytime soon, even if our world's material wealth is spread out more. However, if we truly desire to reduce suffering, to embody the bodhisattva vows, then we have to begin to imagine a world that is less marked by economic, social, racial, and gender-based disparities. And from these imaginings, we must act, as best we can.

Metta to all those impacted by weather-related disasters in Pakistan, as well as around the world.


Adam said...


Nathan said...

Thanks Adam. They seem to be doing decent work, from what I have heard.

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Are you familiar with Derrick Jensen's writing?

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Algernon said...

It did not take long at all for most of our country to forget what was exposed by Hurricane Katrina. The President made a speech, did nothing, and the media moved on.

The real consequences on the poorer of us can make an impression, but the nation's attention is a flighty thing. How do we promote a frank conversation about these problems?

Nathan said...

Hi Robyn,

I have read a tiny bit of Jensen. Would like to read more.

Hi Algernon,

"How do we promote a frank conversation about these problems?"

I've thought a lot of this kind of question. I do feel that these blogs offer an opportunity to have these conversations, and extend them potentially into "real-life" action.

But there are, of course, the barriers. Attention span for sure. Number of readers. Muddy perceptions of blogs and their possible functions.

We have seen in the buddhoblogosphere the possibilities when many bloggers write about the same topic at the same time. It can have an impact, but I think the same problems creep in, especially the attention span issue.

Perhaps something like the Zen Community collective blog - having a blog that collects posts discussing social/economic issues from a Buddhist perspective could be a starting place. Then again, that could "ghettoize" the writings. So, I don't know.

I'll have to think more about it.