More than 10 years ago, the President of Maldives and his cabinet had held an underwater meeting to highlight the inevitability of the low-lying nations going permanently under water, owing to global warming. The dire message went beyond Maldives as the country’s President, Mohamed Nasheed, had presciently warned. “If the Maldives cannot be saved today, we do not feel that there is much of a chance for the rest of the world”. Today, rising sea levels are a direct consequence of climate change and rising temperatures owing to inadequate corrective measures by the leading emitting nations. The phenomenon is expected to sink the Maldives and many more Pacific Island nations, completely in the next 60-70 years.
While the impact of global warming is palpable across the globe and the scientific information points to a fast reaching ‘point of no return’, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, incredously calls it a ‘hoax’. According to a Morgan Stanley report, climate-related disasters have already caused damage worth $415 billion in the last three years, mostly due to wildfires and hurricanes. Warmer temperatures and higher sea levels enhance their destructiveness and intensity. Twenty-two different sectors of the US economy would be debilitated, and the impact of climate change would be second only to that of India. Climate change is emerging as the single biggest threat to mankind, and it can only be addressed, collectively and not individually.
We live in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, and it takes a crisis to demonstrate how the actions of one nation impact not just that nation itself, but the entire world. The seeds of religious extremism that have flourished in the western-most province of Aceh in Indonesia, Russia’s Chechnya to India’s Kashmir, is an alien strain that has its genesis in the unholy alliance of survival, by the ruling Al Saud family and the Wahhabis of the Saudi deserts. This local alliance nurtured, funded and propagated a religious strain that was inherently intolerant, puritanical and it ultimately exploded into various mutations of religio terror organisations, that can be traced back to the Saudi Arabian beneficence. Many Western powers are complicit in either condoning or overlooking the principal export from the Gulf deserts in the 1980s and Nineties and are today bearing the blunt of their silence or acquiescence. No one is spared the impact, as like climate change, terror recognises no boundary.
Even geographically, local events like forest fires have global implications and call for unified action. The much publicised grandstanding of the Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, who declined the G7’s $ 22 million aid and rather pompously suggested that the pledged ‘resources are relevant to reforest Europe’, displayed petty chauvinism as opposed to responsible security measures against a disaster that had global implications.
The area engulfed by the Brazilian fires was almost half of the total Amazonian forests, that generates for 20 per cent of global oxygen and is rightfully known as the lungs of the earth. The recent Australian ‘black summer’ of bushfires killed an estimated one billion animals and scores of human beings. Thankfully, Australia accepted aid from countries like Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia etc. India today faces a possible spillover of the deadly locust swarms that have wreaked havoc in Pakistan. The worst locust infestation in over two decades has already been declared as a national emergency in Pakistan, owing to its impact on crops and food security.
These herbivores recognise no borders, diplomatic sensitivities or even societal tensions and the spillover threat across the LOC is real and substantial, unless India and Pakistan join hands to fight this menace.
Yet, such crises do not stop politicians from playing to the gallery. The Chinese had initially accused the American soldiers of spreading coronaVirus, only to get labelled as the ‘Chinese Virus’, by none other than Donald Trump himself.
The entire world is poised for an unprecedented shutdown or at least a crippling slowdown owing to the spiralling coronavirus. It only takes a crisis of this proportion to insist and mandate global action, otherwise it spares none. Initially isolationist and unilateral moves of ‘herd mentality’ by the United Kingdom and the Netherlands in tackling coronavirus, was explicitly directed by the World Health Orgainsation. Beyond exposing the initial ignorance, reluctance and petulance of the Trump administration, this crisis also exposed the necessity of having multilateral organisations like WHO, which had earlier been subjected to ridicule in the White House. The world is indeed a global village, that needs to be holistically protected from nuclear blackmail, manufactured-hatred and ‘walls’, that even if made, will guarantee no defence against a force like coronavirus.
Beyond timely and aligned global action, this coronavirus crisis has also posited the necessity of sovereign ‘honesty’ in tackling any bad news (or ‘rumours’, as they were called by the Chinese in the initial days). Crucial reactive time was lost and the Chinese grudgingly accepted the magnitude of the disease only after shedding their misplaced sense of ‘patriotism’ in downplaying the crisis. Exchange of crisis lessons are crucial in managing the global impact. However, theatrical oneupmanship does great disservice.
Even the current horror of the global pandemic has not moved the Trump administration to even temporarily lift the crippling sanctions against Iran, which is reeling under its effects. Such memories of indifference will not be easily forgotten, much after the coronavirus has blown over. A sense of genuine global outreach and sensitivity is foremost in such times, as certain communities and countries will suffer incalculably more than the others.
Coronavirus is a timely reminder of how a crisis is a great leveler for all. Living in denial is not an option, neither is living in ignorance. In a perverse way, this crisis has also reiterated the pettiness of our societal and political issues that only seeks further ‘divides’, as opposed to unity. No region, religion or country is spared such crises, but sadly it takes a crisis to remind us of the same.
(The writer IS Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd), Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry.)