Eathquake Tragedy and Response

Daily Times, October 11, 2005
EDITORIAL: In the aftermath of tragedy, honour and fortitude

As we feared in yesterday’s editorial (“Getting the right perspective on the earthquake”), the death toll in the earthquake that hit Pakistan’s north on Sunday has risen to 40,000. But information from many remote areas is still sketchy. This means that it will take weeks for the last count to come in and the final figure of fatalities could go even higher. This makes the disaster the worst tragedy in Pakistan’s 58-year history. Indeed, in terms of the devastation it has wrought, it exceeds other recent quake disasters in the region. Therefore the government’s announcement of a three-day mourning period has simply expressed what all of us are feeling at this point.

But the tragedy has also brought out the best in the nation. Across the country people have risen to the challenge and started contributing to relief efforts. Long queues could be seen outside the Edhi Centres at various places and this newspaper’s reports indicate that many citizens eager to contribute or do something were calling up to find out how best they could help and be part of a national effort to mitigate the sufferings of the victims of this disaster.

There is a lesson in this. For too long we have mourned the apathy of this nation; much has been written about how we lack the ability for collective action; how we are incapable of organised endeavour. But this tragedy and the response to it by the people prove that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with us. We can rise to any challenge when we perceive a need and when our captains are able to provide good leadership.

No one event can inform the analyst about a nation just as no individual can be gauged by a single incident. But it is important to see how adversity affects an individual or a community and what the responses to it are when the chips are down. If the individual or the group acts with honour, courage and fortitude, then there is every reason to believe that he or they are capable of positive action if they are provided the correct incentive and the circumstances are propitious.

The quake has shown a sub-text about how we have been governed — bad regulations, corruption, uncaring attitudes. But more importantly, it has shown how we can disown differences and act together in a joint national cause. If we can rise from the rubble of this quake, surely we can also rise from the ashes of our conflictual politics and poor governance.

Meanwhile, we would be remiss not to mention the wonderful response of the international community to our call for help. Countries across the globe have contributed to the relief effort, and many foreigners have already arrived to participate physically in rescue efforts. Foreign governments are also sending much-needed equipment and other necessities to help the survivors of the tragedy. The manner in which the world has joined hands to help Pakistan shows that humanity transcends ethnic, linguistic and religious boundaries and particularities. This should be another lesson for those who cherish millenarian tendencies and are bent upon shedding blood on the basis of religion and other such markers. This lesson too must be heeded and not forgotten.


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