(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
September 21 , 2008
On August 18, 2008, the Kosi River broke its embankment at Kusaha in Nepal, thus submerging several districts of Nepal and India. Approximately Thirty lakh people were affected as 95 per cent of total flow of Kosi is now flowing through the new course. Hundreds of villages got completely submerged. Thousands of people have lost their lives and properties. Cattle perished in huge numbers and thousands of acres of farmland submerged in the flooding waters. Even today, after disaster struck, many villages are marooned and relief vessels are yet to reach them.
Similar is the case of the three hurricanes. When hurricane Gustav roared across western Cuba as a Category-4 hurricane on August 30, it damaged 100,000 homes and caused billions of dollars worth damage. This hurricane recorded winds that blew at an exceptional force of 340 km/h. This is at second place on the list of the most intense winds measured on the planet, behind the one of 369.6 km/h registered in a winter storm in April 1934 over Mount Washington, United States, and first place in the specific case of hurricanes anywhere in the world. This hurricane is immediately followed by two more hurricanes Hannah and Ike and it is this triple combination that had devastated the tiny Caribbean island nations and even the US.
Compare this with what had happened in Cuba. In Cuba, standing evacuation plans are distributed to each household long ahead of time, and evacuation drills are held regularly. When a hurricane is approaching, state news media issues early warning, and civil defense officials activate local response networks, organiSed down to each block of each town. People are already prepared as part of a sophisticated system that is overseen by the President and the armed forces.
DISCRIMINATION IS ALL PERVADING
Lucky really are those who are born in upper castes, well-to-do families and thus able to catch the rescue boats ‘specially meant for them’. Swirling waters of Kosi does not know caste or class, but whirling leaders and babus know it by heart. They smear the rescue boats and relief material with this venom and discriminate the dalits and other downtrodden sections. Rescue boats were rarely sent to dalit villages and localities. If by chance a boat reaches unknowingly once, there is no guarantee that it would return. Most of the dalits are finding themselves to be lucky even if they were last to be evacuated or given relief. In Triveniganj, the dalits were forced to huddle together in a small group at the end of the bridge away from everyone else. The administration that is denying caste discrimination in relief operations is unable to answer why only a single boat of dalits had come in during the whole day even though they make up more than half the region's people. Those at the helm can see through the hungry and sorrowful eyes of a three-year old child who had lost his parents, identify his caste and deny him food. They ask him to wait for his turn at the end of the queue and for him the queue never moves.
How are people like him surviving? By boiling leaves and drinking the concoction! And they too are ‘lucky’ as they have utensils to boil water because many are drinking the flood water to quench their thirst and hunger. “Our lives meant little to them because we are poor.” Thus life is weighed by caste and ownership of wealth. Nature does not discriminate, but power does!
CUBA TEACHES VALUE OF HUMAN LIFE
In Cuba, even the rescue and relief operations are carried out with complete conviction and dedication to the peoples cause. In one incident, 36 boats, three helicopters and two planes were pressed into service for almost two days to rescue five people. This is how they value human life. Cuba sees more than its share of killer hurricanes, and yet in the past decade only 23 Cubans have been killed by them. The death toll of hurricane Gustav is zero and for hurricane Ike, was shockingly high by Cuban standards: five. Compare that with US where at least a hundred people have lost their lives.
Let us see how the relief camps are managed in Bihar. Media reports that 16,000 people were cramped in one camp and provided with 100 plastic sheets to protect themselves. Food and water are inadequate. Most of the people thus are reluctant to leave their homes and stay in the relief camps. Moreover, they also fear theft of their little valuables once they are shifted to the relief camps as the state does not guarantee their protection.
Because as people are struggling for life, the in-charge for relief operations in a district is busy cutting ribbons and opening relief camps with fanfare. The callous approach can be easily understood when a group of well-intended citizens who wanted to open a medical camp were made to run pillar to post just to get the requisite permission. Even the relief material that had reached the state from various quarters is wanting to be distributed because the officials are undecided. The irony is they are busy enjoying their Sundays while people are living in a perennial fear whether that day would be their ‘last day’. Thousands of children and people are eagerly waiting for a bite to survive in the relief camps while our babus are all decked up to give a ‘byte’ and cut ribbons.
Compare this with what is happening in Cuba. The Senior Vice-President of the Country, the top General of the Army, volunteer corps and government officials were all involved in the relief work day-in and day-out. Electricians worked for 21 hours a day to restore the power supply and so did construction workers to rebuild and repair the damaged houses. All of them had a single thought in their minds: ‘the revolutionary militants should set an example. They should give and receive confidence. They should give everything for the people, even their lives if need be’.
The way Cuban government had responded to the situation is exemplary and even the ‘mightiest power’ had failed to match it. While the US media and government are concerned about the losses to the insurance companies due to these hurricanes, the Cuban government showed its concern to protect the life of every single Cuban citizen. While more than 70 per cent of the electricity to the affected regions is restored in Cuba, still a lot remains to be done for the people of Louisiana who are seething with anger at the lack of power.