No one has forgotten Chernobyl. There was, in 1986, the very real danger of the world getting caught up in a nuclear disaster when gas leaked from the plant. The danger set off by Chernobyl remains as potent today as it has since nuclear weapons made their way into global politics with the havoc wreaked on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
Just how much of a danger we are all in today comes through the fears generated by what might happen around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Holes have been drilled in the roof of the plant amidst exchanges of fire between Russian and Ukrainian forces, to a point where a very real danger of things getting out of hand is worrying for the rest of the world. The worry persists because the battle has continued around the plant.
It is a messy world we inhabit these days. It is an eerie reminder of the way people around the globe felt when the Soviet Union and the United States got into a tangle over Moscow's stationing of nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962. We have heard from our parents' generation of the sleepless nights people everywhere spent from fear that the two superpowers were poised to engage in nuclear warfare any moment over those missiles. Fortunately, both Moscow and Washington stepped back from the brink. The danger was rolled back.
The war in Ukraine has rekindled the old fears, however. In post-modern times, despite expectations everywhere of a better, more humane and therefore more creative world of peaceful coexistence taking form, human nature remains as it has always been. Behaviour has not changed; politics remains stymied by territorial ambitions; conflict does not permit diplomacy to explore the chances of a happier, fairer world for all its inhabitants.
The world is in a mess, undeniably. It is not just war, but the gross damage we have done to the planet in terms of undermining nature which we now experience everywhere. Nature is taking its revenge. Forests in Europe and North America have been consumed by fires rising from the bowels of the earth. Ice-cap melting is causing a rise in sea levels. We observe the consequences all around us.
In recent days, floods of an unprecedented nature have washed away homes in the Pakistani provinces of Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Balochistan, dry and mountainous, has lost more than a thousand of its people to the floods. The Pakistani government, unable to cope with the enormity of the disaster, has appealed for relief assistance from the global community.
The UN Secretary General has called it a monsoon on steroids. The truth is obvious, or should be: human civilization has created a climatic crisis it now is unable to handle or control. And it is not only Pakistan which finds its territory, a third of it, submerged in floodwaters. Similar conditions have battered Sudan. Dozens have perished there in the floods that have left as many as 70,000 people in dire straits. With the floods affecting ten of the eighteen states of the country, a state of emergency has been imposed on Sudan.
Floods have been causing havoc in Sierra Leone as well. And Afghanistan is another story of heartbreak. A year after the precipitate departure of western forces and the restoration of Taliban rule, the country remains in murderous poverty. The floods which have ravaged Pakistan have also left Afghans in their villages in a state of despair. The situation has only added to the woes of Afghanistan's people, with children going through increasing malnutrition, women once again confined to their homes and men losing jobs.
Twenty million Afghans confront hunger and nine million of them have been displaced. Penury is but another definition of the country. The bitter truth is that while the West obsesses about Ukraine, Afghanistan has gone off the radar for policy makers in Brussels and Washington. You could pick up the threads of the Kabul story and link them to the embarrassing unconcern with which the world treats the Palestinian and Rohingya issues at this point of time.
But a lack of concern, where its own interests are at stake, is not to be found in the European Union. The alacrity with which sanctions were applied on Russia in the wake of its assault on Ukraine has now begun to hit Europe hard. A growing energy crisis threatens the West, holding out the dangerous possibility of a good number of cold winters looming over Europe and the United States.
Prices have gone up everywhere. Politics in countries such as the United Kingdom is now focused on a resolution, if at all, of the crisis engendered by a rise in the cost of living.
The Ukraine war has upended everything, all across the planet. Fuel prices in Asia and Africa, along with an unstoppable hike in the prices of food, are putting paid to ambitious social uplift and economic programmes undertaken by governments.
In what is clearly an irony, governments which went for sanctions on Russia in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis are today caught in conditions that are a result of policies which failed to take note of the ramifications that would follow.
There is a bottom line slowly but surely emerging out of all this mess: statesmanship which could have handled the Ukraine situation differently, which could have brought diplomacy into a resolution of the crisis, has been missing. Are we to conclude that leadership on a global scale is a misnomer in our times, that crude nationalism resting on a false sense of patriotism defines politics all across the planet?
The worries voiced by Antonio Guterres are those of the rest of the world. Floods, droughts, storms and wildfires ravage the planet. Half of humanity, notes an exasperated UN Secretary General, is trapped in a danger zone. The danger comes from the breakdown of the global climate shield. It comes too from war and pestilence --- in Ukraine, in Ethiopia's Tigray province.
It comes from people unwilling anymore to tolerate the opulence in which politicians thrive and the exploitation societies suffer through. Sri Lanka is a telling example. But take a look at Brazil, where Jair Bolsonaro, having cut down trees in the Amazon forest and not acknowledging the coronavirus, seeks a second term as President.
Brazilians could give the world new hope --- if they ensure that former President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, today seeking power again, returns to office at the forthcoming election.