Reflections: Bemoaning the victims of Nature’s fury

It would seem that Mother Nature is not happy, the way she is determined to vent her wrath on us, poor earthlings.

It would seem that Mother Nature is not happy, the way she is determined to vent her wrath on us, poor earthlings. While developed countries are able to tame her, we in the developing world cannot but bear the full, brutish brunt of her ire.

The other day it was Haiti, and she lost more than 100,000 of her citizens and some visitors to a violent quake that razed to the ground practically all the buildings in Port-au-Prince. Luckily, more recently Chile did not count an equally high death toll, despite its quake being deadlier.

In fact, if it’d not been for a tsunami that came in the wake of the quake, Chile would have counted a much smaller number of deaths.

But no, the earth was not done yet. So, imagine: you are beginning to get your breath back after the quake and then you see a three-metre-high wave bearing down on you!

Yes, that’s what happened and by last Monday the death toll was almost 1000. And if you think these quakes are far off and don’t concern you, you’ve got another think coming.

The way things are going, all humanity should worry because we may soon lose daylight as we know it.

If you remember, in 2004 we had an even more powerful quake in Sumatra, at a magnitude of 9.1 on the Richter scale. This, scientists say, means that the length of day was shortened by 6.8 microseconds!

The 27th  February earth quake in Chile, which was smaller at a magnitude of 8.8, shortened the day by 1.26 microseconds.

Now, count all the quakes and tremors that have convulsed this earth so far, and see how many microseconds of our daylight we are losing.

And that’s not all, because we are not only headed for perpetual darkness but also for a perpetually directionless spin. Uti how?

The Sumatran quake shifted earth’s figure axis by 2.32 milliarcseconds, which is about 7 centimetres. The Chilean quake, on her part, shifted the earth’s figure axis by 8 centimetres, even if it was less powerful.

The Chilean quake was more disruptive, scientists say, because it was farther from the equator.

The lot of the poor countries, however, defies definition. If it’s not quakes killing us, razing our abodes, sending us unto darkness or directionless spins, it will be floods forcing us to turn trees into maternities. Remember the floods of Mozambique in March 2000?

You don’t. When the rains raged for a week and floods filled many regions of Mozambique, 26-year-old Sophia Pedro found an escape perch in a tree, even if she was advanced in her pregnancy.

When time was up and birth-time called, the floods had not let up and she was forced to give birth in a tree.
How mother and baby Rositha managed to cling to the branches, don’t ask me.

What I know is that hours later, when a medic winched down from a rescuing helicopter, he found them safe and sound. He cut the newborn’s umbilical cord and he and the happy pair were lifted back into the chopper.

As Banyarwanda say, Imana y’imbwa ntihumbya (crudely transliterated: ‘Gods of the unfortunate are always watchful’), but trust the unfortunate to seek out miseries. And so there is a round of floods once again in Mozambique and, this time round, they have triggered a cholera epidemic.

Since the cholera virus is picked from contaminated water, the normal thing is to treat the water. However, when Mozambique Red Cross volunteers and government health workers tried it, they had to flee for life as Mozambicans took up arms and killed a number of them!

Talk about ignorance being a dangerous thing. When they saw the health officials using chlorine to decontaminate the water, villagers believed that they were contaminating it instead, following a rumour to that effect.

This far, cholera has claimed victims in their hundreds, and still counting.
And the same is possible in many of our village communities on the African continent. If it is not the case in Rwanda, it is because of a combination of factors that were introduced only after 1994. For one, there is the monthly umuganda, where members of a community converge for a common activity.

The meetings that follow umuganda activities are used to awaken the community members to any new problem and the steps being taken to avert or solve it.

Apart from such problems, such meetings are used to explain government policies so that the citizens own, and are part of, those policies.

Rwanda is not short of other venues where community members interact, of course. For instance, there is ubudehe for self-help projects and itorero for cultural awareness, et al. Most importantly, there is radio reception in every nook and cranny of the country.

And why haven’t I talked about my refugee camp life in the ‘60s, wouldn’t such a problem have been possible? Nope, if you remember Heresi, the dreaded government health officer of the time.