Fleeting glimpses of hope
For a change, heavy equipment and machinery are being mobilised from all parts of the world to one destination to save lives, not destroy them; religious and political differences were briefly forgotten, not amplified so some people will gain advantages; and headlines of international broadcasting networks focused succinctly on harmony and sad truth, not divisiveness and well-constructed lies.
For a change, people are looking at national maps featuring natural fault lines that can cause all sorts of unstoppable problems, not ones that show manmade “strategic” locations that can cause all kinds of preventable troubles.
For a change, real food is more important than digital money “farming”; the fleeting sense of human fragility has become glaring; “urgency” has the real meaning; and the importance of being truly united is being realised one more time.
For a change, flattened landscapes where buildings once stood and smoulderingrubbles are cried over without exception. Nature’s wrath often triggers unison, not divisive, reactions. If humans had done it, one camp would have called it, silently or else, a victory and the other would have been subdued. Devastating as the earthquake is, wars have killed and destroyed more. It’s unfathomable but it’s true.
The death toll has breached 20,000 as of Friday, February 10, but when the counting of tragic numbers in Turkey and Syria stops, it will be very likely business as usual. Big signs came on Wednesday, February 8, when the number of people killed in the earthquake was approaching 10,000. CNN put that news below Joe Biden being booed for the first time by the Republican House majority and the Chinese balloon controversy. BBC still had the catastrophe as the main lead on the same day, but the US-China squabbling was catching up.
If the world was one big jungle, Turkey and Syria are a neighbourhood in distress which is changing the behaviours of all animals large and small. The tigers, which normally hunt and kill, have offered to use their powerful claws to dig. The hyenas, which normally feed on the carcasses left by the tigers, have joined forces in finding food and building temporary shelters. Even the crocodiles, whose tears are never trusted by anyone, have shipped in with donations.
Why must it take an earthquake for the world to show its noble potentials? After all, it does not look too difficult for the tigers to dig more, for the hyenas to give further and for the crocodiles to cry less.
Figures related to last year’s military spending have yet to be finalised. But in 2021, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, global military expenditure surpassed $2 trillion for the first time. While the five largest spenders _ the United States, China, India, the United Kingdom and Russia, who together accounted for 62 per cent of the money _ have all contributed to the race against time in Turkey and Syria, it’s tempting to try to calculate how many boxes of eggs and breads $2 trillion can buy.
Put the money together with China’s ability to build a 57-storey skyscraper in 19 days as well as the food packaging and maintenance technology that keeps advancing everyday and ones can’t help but wonder why those in Turkey and Syria are not receiving better and quicker help. Freezing cold and poor logistics in affected areas are being blamed, but there has been no mention of the $2 trillion and the global humanitarian budget of $31.3 billion in 2021.
To add salt to the wound, a Syrian diplomat at the United Nations claimed this week that sanctions against his country from the United States and European Union are preventing urgent aid from reaching those in need. It’s a travesty if that is true, because it means what made the $2 trillion “necessary” is also hampering the intended goal of the $31.3 billion, and all in the name of humanitarianism.
As tragic as the week has been, we also manage to see glimpses of what the world can become. Those glimpses are not new, however. We have seen them occasionally, like during the tsunami catastrophe in 2004 and the Wild Boars rescue a few years ago. The challenge is not to “rebuild”, because humans are beyond doubt capable of that, but to reform the idea of what really matters so we can turn those glimpses into an everlasting norm.
By Tulsathit Taptim