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We don’t know a whole lot about tomorrow

Thursday November 14, 2013 Written by Published in Raro on my mind

A storm is a scary thing.

Perhaps the most indisputable evidence of our fragility as humans, natural disaster can render the most well prepared community utterly defenseless.

The people of the Cook Islands can appreciate the power of a storm. Any small, vulnerable island nation knows the poignancy of that feeling – that emotional mlange of dread, fear, and despair.

There are enduring memories of the terror spawned on Manihiki by Cyclone Martin. For many on Aitutaki, the feeling of dreadful anticipation before Cyclone Pat hit is still fresh.

In the face of a forceful storm, nothing else matters. Survival – and that of loved ones – becomes the only priority.

For days, this has been the purview of millions of people in the Philippines, who are without food and water and whose shreds of collective hope are quickly disintegrating.

Traumatised by calamity of cataclysmic proportions, survivors face terrifying uncertainty and the reality that last weekend, their lives were forever changed.

Haiyan’s scope was terrible. Winds faster than a speeding racecar and waves more than five metres high ripped through families and flattened communities. The numbers are astonishing – the Haiyan death toll could exceed 5000, and more than half a million people have been forced from their homes.

It is a story thick with pain. It is a story that evokes, even demands, reflection from the rest of us.

Haiyan prompts, or should prompt, the global community to reconsider its priorities.

At Doha this week, the Philippines’ representative to the UN delivered a moving, evocative speech, imploring the world to pay closer attention to climate change and to regard it not just as a tired term that recurs in NGO reports but as a pressing global catastrophe that will continue to energise storms and sink islands.

(There is no evidence, it must be said, that climate change was directly responsible for creating Haiyan. However, studies have drawn a definitive correlation between warming sea surface temperatures and stronger storms.)

That representative’s rousing call to action – “If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?” – reverberates. No longer, it seems to say, can humans continue to consume and use and destroy without regard for the longer-term consequences of their actions.

A natural disaster prompts, or should prompt, us to reconsider our level of regard for the rest of the world. Communities everywhere have staged fundraisers in support of Haiyan victims. In every natural disaster, there is one silver lining: that generally, a person who might ignore a helpless next-door neighbour for most of the year is moved to help, to donate, to re-post news of charitable drives to their own social media profiles.

And on a lesser scale, a natural disaster prompts, or should prompt, us to reconsider our own priorities. Life is short – we’ve all heard the clich, but we are reminded this week of how true it rings. Today, we don’t know a whole lot about tomorrow.

Each day matters. Each day, we have a chance to start over, to extend an olive branch, to turn someone’s day around, to be honest, to apologise, to make a necessary change we’ve been avoiding.

We should remember to do these things today, while we are able.

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