There’s a lot of ‘nature’ in natural disasters, but there’s also a lot of human involvement that precipitates calamities or makes them worse. Consequently, if we want to play a blame-game, we can point fingers in many directions and at many people and institutions. Not now. Later.
This is the time for everyone to do their bit to help their fellow-creatures in distress. We can draw hope from the fact that we’ve done this before. Whenever there was a tragedy of this proportion or indeed worse or lesser natural disasters the people of this country have put all else aside to come to the aid of people whose only affinity was shared citizenship. That’s the case this time too.
Tens of thousands of people have individually and collectively stepped forward to be counted in relief efforts. Thanks to internet connectivity information is being shared and made use of in unprecedented proportions. Of course there are errors, quite a bit of duplication and confusion, but for all these hiccups things are moving on the ground. People are being saved, food and water is getting transported to those in dire need, even animals are being saved.
While it is fashionable to complain about state institutions and government servants, let us not forget that among those working around the clock even as you read this are employees of the State. The security forces and police, all officials from the lowly Grama Niladhari to the Divisional Secretaries in the administrative apparatus, doctors and other medical personnel, and hundreds of others have gone beyond the call of duty to contribute to rescue and relief efforts.
In many instances ordinary citizens have worked with state agencies to ensure that relief items they’ve collected are distributed as quickly as possible to those who are in the greatest need.
The efforts of the ordinary citizens have to be commended, especially on social media. They’ve used all their networking and communication skills to keep people informed about risks, urge those in high-risk areas to move out immediately, warned would-be volunteers of the dangers that over-enthusiasm can create and essentially done amazing work to ensure that things are kept sober and that efforts are streamlined and effective.
It’s not over. More rains have been forecast over the next two days. We have no way of predicting what could happen. It is best to prepare for the worst. While many were able to give their all on Saturday and Sunday, it must be understood that these were holidays. Not all those who volunteered in numerous ways can obtain leave unless of course their employers (where public or private institutions) recognize the dimensions of the tragedy and release these people to be the auxiliary force that they have time and again proven to be in times of national calamity.
They are not super humans and therefore it is important that others step in at the right time so they can rest, recharge batteries and return to the regions laid waste. In other words, this is a time when we have to take care of each other, work together, and rise above everything that has divided us and continue to divide us.
There will no doubt dawn a day when the skies are all clear. There will no doubt be other challenges we would have to face such as disease, the need to rebuild and to re-gather lives ripped apart by unforgiving waters and angry soils. That too is the burden that the citizens will have to shoulder.
This is a moment of tragedy. It is also a moment of hope. We are still a nation, still a community and we still rush to the aid of the distressed regardless of their identity, location and political or ideological preferences. This is what makes us a country, a society and a civilization.
There will come a time when we have to return to the drawing board and figure out what happened and why. We can point fingers then. Not now.
Today, tomorrow and until such time that a sense of security returns to the last displaced family, there’s work to be done.
We can criticise later. For now, let’s continue to help.