EDITORIAL: Earthquake in Japan - Sunday, March 13, 2011

Source : http://dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2011\03\13\story_13-3-2011_pg3_1

The video images of a tsunami triggered by the most powerful recorded earthquake of Japan’s history off the northeast coast, sweeping away ships, cars, houses and every other object that came in its way were a spectacle of human incapacity before the awe-inspiring forces of nature. There is no conclusive figure of the loss of human lives yet, as many people are still missing, some of whom might be buried under collapsed buildings. However, despite the scale of the disaster and the vast damage it caused to the infrastructure, the death toll is estimated to be far less than it could have been if the earthquake had struck a less developed country. According to the latest estimates, there could be more than 1,300 deaths. There are three factors that have contributed to this relatively low figure. First, Japan is located at an earthquake-prone region of the Pacific Rim where the entire lifestyle of the Japanese population is moulded around this possibility. Earthquake safety trainings are part of school curricula and constructions are lightweight and earthquake resistant. Traditionally, buildings were entirely made from wood, but even after modern western architectural style and materials were introduced into Japan, the primary consideration to construct earthquake resistant buildings perfected the technique to suit the region’s particular geography. Therefore, perhaps fewer deaths have been caused by the earthquake and more by the 10-metre high wall of water sweeping vast expanses of land. The second reason for a limited loss of life could be low population density. The badly affected prefectures of Miyagi and Fukushima have as low a density as 320.86 and 154 per square kilometre respectively. Compare it to Tokyo with a population density of 5,847 per square kilometre. Had the earthquake and the resulting tsunami hit some densely populated urban centre, the death toll could have been very high. The third and an important reason is the emergency response of Japan, which is one of the wealthiest nations of the world. As analysts have pointed out, the wealthier a nation, the better is its capacity to cope with natural disasters, having invested in safety infrastructures.

The cause of worry in the current disaster is something else. After the earthquake, the breakdown of power supply to a nuclear power plant at Fukushima resulted in the failure of its cooling system and has triggered fear of a meltdown. Already, there has been an explosion at the site of the power plant, which demolished the building housing it and emitted radiation. Although experts are confident it would not lead to a meltdown, a quick response is necessary to prevent a bigger mishap. This leads us the safety of our own nuclear power plants, one of which, Chashma I is located on a fault-line in Punjab. If an earthquake happens at this site at some point in future, one cannot even imagine the extent of damage it might cause, given the fact that Pakistan has very little capacity to deal with it as compared to Japan.

This East Asian nation is one of the biggest aid-giving countries to Pakistan and lent generous support when earthquake hit the country in 2005 as well as in the aftermath of the devastating floods last year. The Pakistani nation stands by the Japanese people in this hour of human, economic and social loss and hopes that Japan would recover quickly from this disaster. *

SECOND EDITORIAL: Jalib’s Pakistan

March 12, 2011 was Habib Jalib’s 18th death anniversary. Jalib was not just a revolutionary poet, a Marxist-Leninist, a political activist but he was a visionary who wanted Pakistan to be a country free of military dictatorships, religious fanaticism and class differences. Urdu poet Qateel Shifai summed up Jalib sahib’s life beautifully in these words:

“Apney saarey dard bhula kar auron ke dukh sehta tha,

Hum jab ghazlain kehtey thay woh aksar jail mein rehta tha,

Aakhir kaar chala hee gaya woh rooth kar hum farzaanon se,

Woh deewana jisko zamana Jalib Jalib kehta tha.”

(He hid his own anguish and languished for others,

When as we rhymed for damsels and composed lilting songs, he was the one who pined behind the bars,

Now at last he is gone, leaving us sane and mandarins behind,

The one who went by the name Jalib).

Jalib sahib was committed to freedom of expression and he was not afraid to voice his opinion. He was imprisoned in General Ayub Khan’s time for the first time because he vociferously opposed the General’s capitalist policies, which were only beneficial for a handful of families. Despite the relative success of Ayub’s economic policies, the bitter truth was that the masses kept suffering and kept getting poorer. It was because of the rise in sugar prices that a mass movement finally made General Ayub resign but another military dictator, General Yahya Khan, replaced him. Jalib was against the oppression in the then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and wrote his hauntingly beautiful poem ‘Bagiya Lahu Luhan’ (The Garden is full of blood). It was not just during military rule that Jalib went to jail but Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, too, imprisoned him along with some of his leftist friends. When General Ziaul Haq came to power, Jalib sahib was again vocal about his disastrous policies and challenged his orthodox views. Jalib had a keen eye and long before others would say it, he wrote how it was not Islam in danger but the vested interests of our ruling elite, who invoked the religion card at the drop of a hat. He also challenged the mullahs and how they never questioned the rich but always preached to the poor, whose fate could not change through prayers.

The rising tide of fanaticism that has gripped Pakistan, its manifestations clear in the assassinations of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, need to be swept away by revisiting Jalib and his ideas. The new generation needs to discover what Jalib stood for and why it is important in order to save our country from an abyss of darkness. Had Jalib sahib been alive, he would have been the first one to stand on the barricades and recite a new poem for an enlightened future of Pakistan. Jalib’s poetry is about resistance and we definitely need to resist religious extremism. *

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