So, Hurricane Sandy didn’t reach India – but Cyclone Nilam did, bringing heavy rains, strong winds, high waves, and heavy floods across south of India earlier today. 100,000 people were evacuated on the coast of Bay of Bengal in Tamil Nadu, and on its way towards India, Nilam displaced over 4,000 people in Sri Lanka. The heavy rains, wind and floods will not only destroy houses and displace families, but also destroy crops that people depend on for their livelihoods. These are largely people that already live below the poverty line – and now they’ve lost the little they had to keep them going for the next few months. They have nothing left.
Climate change is affecting countries and people around the world, and many on constant basis. Countries like Vanuatu, Philippines, Tonga and Tuvalu could be under water during our generation’s life time. Lives and livelihoods are lost because affluent and wealthy countries, that bear most of the responsibility for global warming and climate change, refuse to take proper action to counteract the effects of our lifestyles. While this in no way diminishes the horrific effects and destruction that Sandy caused along the east coast of the US, the reality is that hurricanes, cyclones, floods, and other extreme climate conditions destroy lives, livelihoods and infrastructure all the time – we just don’t hear about it. For most people, there is no FEMA – there is no government to run to the rescue, no safety nets to catch them, no one to pull them back up after the rains and floods and winds have thrown them down. These people don’t curl up in their apartments with candles, friends, board games and bottles of wine to ride out the storm – they ride out the storm hanging on to the tarp that constitutes the roof of their home, hoping that the walls won’t come crumbling down.
Countries like the United States, China, Germany, France and the UK cannot continue to base their decisions on how and whether to seriously tackle climate change and global warming solely on the basis of how it directly effects their respective countries and citizens. While Sandy-level hurricanes rarely hit New York City, global warming and its effects are still causing irreparable damage across the globe. It shouldn’t always take a catastrophe in an affluent country for things to change.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with curling up in the corner of your couch with a book, a glass of red wine and a candle to ride out the storms in places like New York – I did pretty much exactly that during the hurricane-that-wasn’t, Irene. We react to situations based on our particular situation, and for people who don’t have to deal with hurricanes on weekly or monthly basis, one Sandy can be a life changing event. I don’t think anyone needs to feel guilty about not having to hang on to a tarp while the winds and rains blast in through the leaking walls – but maybe we should be a bit more attuned to what is happening in places far from us, in island states with rising sea levels, in countries like India and Sri Lanka where the most vulnerable people bear the brunt of nature;s wrath, even though they really did nothing to contribute to the current status of our climate. The East Coast will bounce back to business as usual, it will – because there are safety nets, government programmes and support structures in place to ensure that happens. The 4,000 displaced people in Sri Lanka don’t have that, nor do the people in South India who just saw their livelihoods washed away by rains and floods.
While I do hope the East Coast will recover from Sandy soon, and life can get back to normal there, I also hope the effects won’t be immediately forgotten.It would be great to see it actually lead into some concrete changes in terms of climate change policies and environmental protection programmes – because people in some of these other countries really don’t have much more time for conversations about whether climate change is real or not, and whose fault it is. I think they really don’t care either – they just need things to change.