Connect with us

Focus

Remorse And Rubble In Nepal

Published

on

Within minutes of driving out the parking lot at the Kathmandu airport, the first earthquake struck. Our vehicles rocked from side to side, like boats on a choppy ocean. At first, we didn’t realize what was going on. When the shaking continued and we saw people screaming and running from the airport – we realized we were amid the worst earthquake Nepal had ever seen.

In 2013, I took 15 middle management executives from the ABN Group to the top of Kilimanjaro. Soon after our return, we started planning the next adventure – Everest Base Camp (EBC). The earthquake changed everything.

When the tremors stopped, we had a chance to assess the situation. From the airport in Kathmandu, we could see black dust billowing from the city. The magnitude of the tremors was more than I had ever experienced in my life. We were told that the airport was closed and the runway had cracked. The intensity of the earthquake and the damage was not clear. It became so as we made our way to our hotel.

By this time, all the residents of the city had moved into the streets. Dharahara Tower, the tallest building in the city, had collapsed. Icons, like the Dharahara Tower, are pillars of pride. When they fall, it makes people desolate and uncertain, particularly when most of the buildings are old and poorly maintained.

The tremors continued at frequent intervals and in the frenzy our vehicles were separated. Our driver was young and seemed to have lost his nerve. He took us into a built-up area in the city, parked the car in an enclosed parking lot and without saying a word deserted us. We never saw him again. I was with Gary Fernandes and Biju Vetil who are both senior members of the Transnational Education (TNE) management. By this time, the network was clogged and we were unable to contact Chris Pilgrim and other members of our team in Kathmandu. We were, however, able to connect intermittently with our HR Manager, Bidisha Sen, in Dubai. The most important thing was to let everyone’s families know we were safe.

By 1PM, my son Sidharth, who is based in Johannesburg, started providing me with information based on what he was able to pick up from news reports. We were told that there was another severe quake expected at 3PM. Since we were stranded, the three of us decided to go towards a canal in an open area until the next wave of tremors. By 4PM, we asked a person in the garage to drive us to our hotel;  he reluctantly agreed. The journey was eventful as most roads were blocked by fallen buildings and debris. Kathmandu is an old city and the streets are extremely narrow. Another death trap was the low hanging power cables that are part of a dilapidated grid. While most of the city had lost power, there were still some main cables that burst at the nodes as we were passing by. By this time, everyone had evacuated their homes and moved into the streets. By 5PM, we regrouped with the team at our hotel.

The hotel was in disarray. All the guests had moved into the lobby and the small courtyard outside. It was getting cold and people went to their rooms hesitantly to collect sleeping bags and blankets for the night ahead. I assembled the team and my first goal was to make sure that everyone was calm. I stressed that we had to stay together and the safety of our team was paramount. We agreed that we had to abandon the trek and plan an exit strategy.

The airport was closed. Our next option was to get transport to the Indian border and cross to Delhi to fly to Dubai. This needed visas from the Indian embassy as we had four other nationalities: Canadian, Chinese, Filipino and Egyptian.

We were told that the Indian Air Force had deployed C-130 aircraft to evacuate Indian nationals. The team agreed that we were not going to evacuate piecemeal until there was a proper plan for each member. It was clear to me that I would be the last to leave. I also realized, rather than listening to rumours, a physical recce of the airport was needed so that I could decide whether it was going to be an air evacuation or by road.

The news from social media and family came in. The extent of the damage was not clear but by this time we knew about the avalanche at EBC, the devastation at the epicentre and the rising casualties. We could hear the sirens of ambulances and rescue workers moving around trying to help people trapped in the rubble.

My team was tired and emotionally drained but never showed a moment of weakness nor despair. I wanted to make sure that we found a place to eat. The city had shut down; nothing was open other than small grocery stores selling water and basic food. People had left their place of work and returned home to care for their families. We found a small restaurant and were told the only dish they could serve was chow mein. The half cooked and barely warm dish was perhaps the tastiest chow we had ever eaten.

After dinner, Chris and Biju went on a mission to find a taxi to go on a recce. They found a broken-down vintage taxi that Gary and I rode to the airport. It had started drizzling and it was heartrending to see families, particularly children, sleeping on the streets. Some people were keeping a vigil to make sure that their groups were safe. To our delight, we found lines of tourists and expatriates lined up to fly out. The only operational flights were by the Indian Air Force which gave me the comfort that commercial airlines would soon start flying in. This is the information that I needed to have a proper plan for the next day.

My wife Saloni had been in touch with all the airlines flying out from the UAE and had made tentative bookings for us on Air Arabia. By 3AM, our seats were secured on the 10.55PM flight from Kathmandu to Sharjah on Sunday.

We had a sleepless night which saw several tremors, including a severe one at 5AM. It rained and was freezing cold. We had to move into the dining area where the guests were crammed like sardines. People were edgy, every time a chair moved they darted to the open courtyard.

At 7AM, we received a princely breakfast of tea, slices of bread and jam. It was a blessing. At 9AM, the hotel owner came to meet us and offered us a lift in his van. The only problem was it was the team or the luggage; not both. Since we had over 12 hours until our flight, I asked him to take the baggage. Our travel agent assured us it would get to the airport.

We decided not to walk through the built-up areas as a lot of the buildings were unstable. We found a map and planned our more than 20 kilometer route along the canal and then finally on to the wide main road to the airport. The extent of the damage and the displacement of people we saw while walking was an eye opener. The open areas were packed and temporary shelters, of tarpaulin and plastic, were everywhere. Rescuers pulled dead bodies from the wreckage. We were full of remorse and knew it could have been us.

After a six-hour march, that included the second-most severe earthquake at 1PM, we finally made it to the airport. We joined long lines of people waiting to board commercial planes. The airport had been shut down once again and we had no idea if we would fly out. My wife stayed in close contact with the airline and at 6.30PM told us that the flight had taken off from Sharjah. Hope was revived. We checked in at 9PM and the way the baggage was piled up in the airport, and the lack of any tracking and staff, made it evident that the luggage was not going anywhere. We boarded at 1AM and took off an hour later to the cheers of relieved and exhausted passengers. The ordeal, for us, was over. Our families and the hot coffee and muffins at the airport more than compensated for our lost baggage that we have no hope of getting back. I only hope the contents make it to the needy people of Nepal and not into the hands of thieves.

This experience was a reality check. We often believe we are infallible; the truth is we are far from it. I was just happy that I could bring all members of my team back safely. I would not have been able to live with myself if anything untoward had happened. Our team members in Dubai and families stepped up and played a crucial role in lifting our morale. We went there for a team building exercise. Nothing prepared the team for a real life catastrophe that brought out the best in each of them and brought them together as a family and inspired them to contribute to the suffering people of Nepal.

Current Affairs

VE DAY MARKS THE END OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR-BUT THE WORLD IS STILL AT WAR

Just like the world is desperately seeking a cure to end the coronavirus pandemic which has killed over 275,000 people so far and leaving a trail of human, economic and social misery, the world too must find a way to end wars, or else we may be defeated as a civilization.

Published

on

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls on President Ashraf Ghani during a visit to Afghanistan’s capital Kabul to show solidarity with the Afghan people. Photo UNAMA / Fardin Waezi/June 2017.

The world commemorated the 75th Anniversary to mark the end of the 2nd World War also called VE Day on May 08, 2020.

With her nation, and much of the world still in lockdown, due to COVID 19, England’s Queen marked 75 years since the allied victory in Europe with a poignant televised address. From Windsor Castle, Queen Elizabeth said, “ the wartime generation knew that the best way to honour those who did not come back from the war, was to ensure that it didn’t happen again”.

But the world is still at war. Proxy wars or localised conflicts are wrecking havoc on human development and humanity in virtually every corner of the world. By the end of 2018, wars, violence and persecution have driven record numbers of over 70 million people from their homes worldwide, according to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. This is the largest ever displacement of humanity, post 2nd World War.

Never has the appeal by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres been more pertinent: “The world is in pieces; we need world peace.” 

The United States signed a historic deal with Afghanistan that outlines a timetable and exit plan for American troops, setting the stage for the potential end to nearly 18 years of war in Afghanistan.  The UN Secretary General welcomed the US-Taliban peace agreement on February 29, 2020.  The United States also won the unanimous backing of the UN Security Council to this ambitious peace deal on March 10, 2020.

The implementation of the peace agreement will need leadership, courage and resolve and there will be spoilers who will attempt to upend the peace process. The road to peace will be characterized by violence, set-backs and numerous false starts, but it will need diplomacy, determination and drive to keep the peace process on track.

Hubris must not prolong the agony of this appalling war. 

The war has cost over $2 trillion and killed more than 2,400 American soldiers and 38,000 Afghan civilians. Casualties among Afghan security forces are estimated to have reached around 40,000 between 2007 and 2017.

Wars are appalling. As a combat veteran, I have witnessed first-hand how armed conflicts have transformed some of our finest soldiers into shells of the people I once knew. Combat is savage, it is brutal, it is reckless, it diminishes us as human beings and jeopardizes our humanity.

General William Sherman once said, “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, and more desolation. War is hell.”

There are no winners in Afghanistan, but let’s consider the consequences on all the women and men who fought in it.

Today, research backs up what soldiers have described for decades, and what was once called shell shock or combat fatigue. We have terms like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), chronic depression, cognitive impairment, and traumatic brain injury to help explain the symptoms suffered by active and returning soldiers.  

U.S. Army soldiers on security duty in Paktīkā province, Afghanistan, 2010. Sgt. Derec Pierson/U.S. Department of Defense

For a long time, many of the grim statistics about war centred on fatalities and did not include the conflicts’ deep mental wounds. Today we have a better understanding of the kind of moral and psychological toll wars take on soldiers, their families, and communities.

The United States is a leader in the understanding of psychological and emotional damage to soldiers and has taken some steps to address their mental health. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have left between 11% and 20% of military personnel suffering from PTSD. As many as 375,000 US veterans have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries between 2000 and 2017, mostly caused by explosions. 

But suicides in the US armed forces have continued to rise in recent years, reaching record levels in 2018 when there were 25 deaths per 100,000 service members. Former defence secretary Leon Panetta once said that the “epidemic” of military suicide was “one of the most frustrating problems” he had faced.

More than $350 billion has already gone to medical and disability care for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Experts say that more than half of that spending belongs to the Afghanistan effort.

Homelessness among veterans is pervasive, and soldiers still struggle to access benefits and healthcare if they suffer from mental health issues rather than from physical wounds. At any given time in the US, more than 40,000 veterans are homeless, constituting around 9% of all homeless adults in the country. 

In the United Kingdom, spurred by a dozen suicides among Afghan war veterans in just two months, the government expedited new mental health programs to help deal with former military members’ PTSD and addiction. 

What does this now mean for the Afghan security forces? They and their families do not have the same support structures.

All this ‘hell’, but to what end? Afghanistan remains one of the world’s largest sources of refugees and migrants. Since 2004 alone, more than 1.8 million Afghans have become internally displaced. Afghanistan’s human development and progress has been set back by decades. Women and children have suffered the most and countless are emotionally and psychologically scarred for life.

While we like to see soldiers as stoic and heroic, we must open our eyes to the fact that wars scar minds as well as bodies, often in ways medical science cannot yet comprehend.

Just like the world is desperately seeking a cure to end the coronavirus pandemic which has killed over 275,000 people so far and leaving a trail of human, economic and social misery, the world too must find a way to end wars, or else we may be defeated as a civilization.

Siddharth Chatterjee, is the United Nations resident coordinator to Kenya. He has served with the UN and the Red Cross Movement in various parts of the world affected by conflicts and humanitarian crisis. He is also a decorated Special Forces veteran and a Princeton University alumnus. Follow him on Twitter @sidchat1

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.​​​​​

Continue Reading

Focus

Climate Explained: How Much Of Climate Change Is Natural? How Much Is Man-made?

Published

on


How much climate change is natural? How much is man made?

As someone who has been working on climate change detection and its causes for over 20 years I was both surprised and not surprised that I was asked to write on this topic by The Conversation. For nearly all climate scientists, the case is proven that humans are the overwhelming cause of the long-term changes in the climate that we are observing. And that this case should be closed.

Despite this, climate denialists continue to receive prominence in some media which can lead people into thinking that man-made climate change is still in question. So it’s worth going back over the science to remind ourselves just how much has already been established.

Successive reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – mandated by the United Nations to assess scientific evidence on climate change – have evaluated the causes of climate change. The most recent special report on global warming of 1.5 degrees confirms that the observed changes in global and regional climate over the last 50 or so years are almost entirely due to human influence on the climate system and not due to natural causes.

What is climate change?

First we should perhaps ask what we mean by climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change defines climate change as:

a change in the state of the climate that can be identified by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer.

The causes of climate change can be any combination of:

  • Internal variability in the climate system, when various components of the climate system – like the atmosphere and ocean – vary on their own to cause fluctuations in climatic conditions, such as temperature or rainfall. These internally-driven changes generally happen over decades or longer; shorter variations such as those related to El Niño fall in the bracket of climate variability, not climate change.
  • Natural external causes such as increases or decreases in volcanic activity or solar radiation. For example, every 11 years or so, the Sun’s magnetic field completely flips and this can cause small fluctuations in global temperature, up to about 0.2 degrees. On longer time scales – tens to hundreds of millions of years – geological processes can drive changes in the climate, due to shifting continents and mountain building.
  • Human influence through greenhouse gases (gases that trap heat in the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide and methane), other particles released into the air (which absorb or reflect sunlight such as soot and aerosols) and land-use change (which affects how much sunlight is absorbed on land surfaces and also how much carbon dioxide and methane is absorbed and released by vegetation and soils).

What changes have been detected?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report showed that, on average, the global surface air temperature has risen by 1°C since the beginning of significant industrialisation (which roughly started in the 1850s). And it is increasing at ever faster rates, currently 0.2°C per decade, because the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have themselves been increasing ever faster.

The oceans are warming as well. In fact, about 90% of the extra heat trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases is being absorbed by the oceans.

A warmer atmosphere and oceans are causing dramatic changes, including steep decreases in Arctic summer sea ice which is profoundly impacting arctic marine ecosystems, increasing sea level rise which is inundating low lying coastal areas such as Pacific island atolls, and an increasing frequency of many climate extremes such as drought and heavy rain, as well as disasters where climate is an important driver, such as wildfire, flooding and landslides.

Multiple lines of evidence, using different methods, show that human influence is the only plausible explanation for the patterns and magnitude of changes that have been detected.

This human influence is largely due to our activities that release greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, as well sunlight absorbing soot. The main sources of these warming gases and particles are fossil fuel burning, cement production, land cover change (especially deforestation) and agriculture.

Weather attribution

Most of us will struggle to pick up slow changes in the climate. We feel climate change largely through how it affects weather from day-to-day, season-to-season and year-to-year.

The weather we experience arises from dynamic processes in the atmosphere, and interactions between the atmosphere, the oceans and the land surface. Human influence on the broader climate system acts on these processes so that the weather today is different in many ways from how it would have been.

One way we can more clearly see climate change is by looking at severe weather events. A branch of climate science, called extreme event or weather attribution, looks at memorable weather events and estimates the extent of human influence on the severity of these events. It uses weather models run with and without measured greenhouse gases to estimate how individual weather events would have been different in a world without climate change.

As of early 2019, nearly 70% of weather events that have been assessed in this way were shown to have had their likelihood and/or magnitude increased by human influence on climate. In a world without global warming, these events would have been less severe. Some 10% of the studies showed a reduction in likelihood, while for the remaining 20% global warming has not had a discernible effect. For example, one study showed that human influence on climate had increased the likelihood of the 2015-2018 drought that afflicted Cape Town in South Africa by a factor of three.

Adapting to a changing climate

Weather extremes underlie many of the hazards that damage society and the natural environment we depend upon. As global warming has progressed, so have the frequency and intensity of these hazards, and the damage they cause.

Minimising the impacts of these hazards, and having mechanisms in place to recover quickly from the impacts, is the aim of climate adaptation, as recently reported by the Global Commission on Adaptation.

As the Commission explains, investing in adaptation makes sense from economic, social and ethical perspectives. And as we know that climate change is caused by humans, society cannot use “lack of evidence” on its cause as an excuse for inaction any more.

Continue Reading

Current Affairs

The Rage And Tears That Tore A Nation

Published

on

Snapshots of the outrage against foreign nationals and protests against sexual offenders in South Africa in recent weeks, captured by FORBES AFRICA photojournalist Motlabana Monnakgotla.


As the continent’s second-biggest economy, South Africa attracts migrants from the rest of Africa. But mired in its own problems of unemployment and political instability, September saw a serious outbreak of attacks by South Africans on foreign nationals and foreign-owned businesses. And they have been ugly.    

The spark that fueled the raging fire was in Pretoria, the country’s capital, when a taxi driver was shot dead by a foreign national who was selling drugs to a youngster in the central business district (CBD).

The altercation caused a riot and the taxi industry brought the CBD to a standstill, blocking intersections. It did not stop there; a week later, about 60 kilometers from the capital in Malvern, a suburb east of the Johannesburg CBD, a hijacked building caught fire, leaving three dead. As emergency services were putting out the fire, the residents took advantage and looted foreign-owned shops and burned car dealerships overnight on Jules Street.

The lootings extended to the CBD and other parts of Johannesburg.

To capture this embarrassing moment in South African history, I visited Katlehong, a township 35 kilometers east of Johannesburg, where the residents blocked roads leading to Sontonga Mall on a mission to loot the mall and the foreign-owned shops therein overnight.

Shop-owners and workers were shocked to wake up to no business.

Mfundo Maljingolo, a worker at Fish And Chips, was among the distressed.

“This thing started last night, people started looting and broke into the mall and did what they wanted to do. I couldn’t go to work today because there’s nothing to do; now, we are not going to get paid. The shop will be losing close to R10,000 ($677) today. It’s messed up,” said Maljingolo.

But South African businesses were affected too.

Among the shops at the mall is Webbers, a clothing and footwear store. Looters could not enter the shop and it was one of the few that escaped the vandalism.

Dineo Nyembe, the store’s manager, said she was in disbelief when she saw people could not enter the mall.

“We got here this morning and the ceiling was wrecked but there was no sign that the shop was entered, everything was just as we left it. Now, we are packing stock back to the warehouse, because we don’t know if they are coming back tonight,” lamented Nyembe, unsure if they would make their daily target or if they would be trading again.

 Across the now-wrecked mall are small businesses that were not as fortunate as Webbers, and it was not only the shop-owners that were affected. 

Emmanuel Nhlane’s home was robbed even as attackers were looting the shop outside.

“They broke into my house, I was threatened with a petrol bomb and I had to stand outside to give them a chance; they took my fridge, bed, cash and my VHS,” said Nhlane.

Nhlane had rented out his yard to foreign nationals to operate a shop. He does not comprehend why his belongings were taken because he doesn’t own a shop. Now, it means that the unemployed Nhlane will not be getting his monthly rental fee of R3,700 ($250).

Far away, the coastal KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, was also affected as trucks burned and a driver was killed because of his nationality. This was part of a logistics and transport industry national strike.

Back in Johannesburg, I visited the car dealerships that were a part of the burning spree on Jules Street.

The streets were still ashy and the air still smoky, two days after the unfortunate turn of events.

Muhamed Haffejee, one of the distraught businessmen there, said: “Currently, we are still not trading.” 

Cape Town, in the Western Cape province of South Africa, which hosted the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa from September 4 to 6, was also witness to protests by women and girls from all walks of life outside the Cape Town International Convention Centre, demanding that the leadership take action to end the spate of gender-based violence (GBV) in the country.

There were protests also outside Parliament. What set off the nationwide outcry was the shocking rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a 19-year-old film and media student at the University of Cape Town, inside a post office by a 42-year-old employee at the post office.

There was anger against the ghastly crimes and wave of GBV in the country that continues unabated. According to Stats SA, there has been a drastic increase of women-based violence in South Africa; sexual offences are up by 4.6%, from 50,108 in 2018 to 52,420 in 2019.

A week later, on a Friday, Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile and one of the biggest economic hubs, was shut down by hundreds of angry women and members of advocacy groups from across Johannesburg. They congregated by the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), the cynosure of business, singing and chanting, to demand “a 2% levy on profits of all listed entities to help fund the fight against GBV and femicide”.   

Among the protesters was Cebi Ngqinanbi, holding a placard that read: “I’m not your punching bag.”

“We came here to disrupt Sandton as the heart of Johannesburg’s economic hub. We want to make everyone aware that women and children are being killed every day in South Africa and they [Sandton] continue with business as usual, sitting in their offices with air-conditioners and the stock exchange whilst people on the ground making them rich are dying. That is why we are here, to speak to those that have economic power,” said Ngqinanbi.

She added that if women can be given economic power, they will be able to fend for themselves and won’t fall prey to abusive men, since most women stay in abusive relationships because men are more financially stable.

Amid the chanting and singing of struggle songs, Nobuhle Ajiti addressed the crowd and shared her own haunting experience as a migrant in South Africa and survivor of GBV. She spoke in isiZulu, a South African language.

“I survived a gang rape; I was thrown out of a moving car and stabbed several times. I survived it, but am I going to survive xenophobia that is looming around in South Africa? Will I able to share my xenophobia story like I can share my GBV story?” questioned Ajiti.

She said as migrants, they did not wake up in the morning and decide to come to South Africa, but because of the hardships faced in their home countries, they were forced to come to what they perceived as the city of opportunities. And as a foreign national, she had to deal with both xenophobia and GBV.

“We experience institutionalized xenophobia in hospitals; we are forced to pay huge amounts for consultation. I am raped and I need medical attention and I am told I need to pay R5,000 ($250).

“As a mere migrant, where am I going to get R5,000? I get abused at home and the police officer would ask me where I’m from because of my accent, I sound Zimbabwean. What does my nationality have to do with my husband beating me at home or with the man that just raped me?” she asked.

Women stop traffic while they hold up placards stating their grievences against GBV. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

Addressing the resolute women outside was the JSE CEO Nicky Newton-King who received the memorandum demanding business take their plight seriously, from a civil society group representing over 70 civil society organizations and individuals.

The list of demands include that at all JSE-listed companies contribute to a fund to resource the National Strategy Plan on GBV and femicide, to be launched in November; transport for employees who work night shifts or work after hours; establish workplace mechanisms to provide support to GBV survivors as part of employee wellness, and prevention programs that help make workplaces safe spaces for all women.

Newton-King assured the protestors she would address their demands in seven days. But a lot can happen in seven days. Will there be more crimes in the meantime? How many more will be raped and killed in South Africa by then?

Continue Reading

Trending