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How the poor carry the rich man's burden
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By Op Rana

The wise and knowledgeable of our times may debunk Marx for saying the poor suffer because of the rich. But global warming proves, on a much wider scale, how true it is. The poor countries are suffering the ill effects of climate change caused mainly by the rich countries. We will come to this later. For now, let's shift focus to the A(H1N1) flu virus.

India was spared the wrath of two recent epidemics - SARS and bird flu. But H1N1 seems to be different. The international community raised hell over SARS and the bird flu, most of the Western countries issued advisories against traveling to affected places (read China), blamed Beijing for concealing facts and not taking enough preventive and control measures.

Well, China is the only major country where the H1N1 virus has not killed anybody, largely because of its almost foolproof preventive measures. What does it get in return from the West? Criticism: Beijing is being unnecessarily cautious, causing undue harassment to international travelers and sending some people unduly into quarantine. Why the double standards? Is it because SARS and the bird flu started from Asia and the H1N1 virus strain was first detected in North America (though the first 2009 case was detected in Mexico)?

Back to India. India recorded its first H1N1 case on May 13. A 23-year-old man who tested H1N1 positive had flown to India from the US (he was an Indian though, and flew to Hyderabad via Dubai).

As an Indian, I know how poor quarantine facilities in India are, how loose its security network to monitor cases like H1N1 is, and worst of all how careless even many of the educated are toward matters of health and hygiene. Any or all of these factors could have prompted a few of the H1N1 patients to slip out of hospitals and vanish into the ocean of people that is India. The result: they passed on the disease to the unsuspecting masses.

The H1N1 virus has killed 21 people in India since Aug 3, when Rida Sheikh, a 14-year-old schoolgirl in Pune (near Mumbai), became the first victim. The speed at which the death rate is rising could make India the worst affected in the world given its high density of population. The situation in India is totally opposite China's. But that is not the point of argument.

Relatively well-off people (only a fraction of Indians can even dream of flying) carried the disease from rich countries to India, but none of them are among the 20 known victims.

Is this not a case of the poor suffering because of the deeds of the rich, then?

India is better off, economically at least, than many other countries and can still control the outbreak. But one shudders to think what a country like Bangladesh (which has one of the highest density of population in the world), or any of the poorer African nations, would do in case of an H1N1 epidemic outbreak.

Bangladesh, however, has been facing the wrath of climate change. It has been lashed by deadlier cyclones and lost some of its low-lying areas, including some islands in the Sunderbans, to the rising sea. And how much greenhouse gases has it emitted? Negligible? Trace?

Thousands of miles away high above the sea level in the Andes, people don't have enough water to drink and can't cultivate their land because the glaciers have melted. Is nature punishing them for mitigating pollution more than they create? Or are they, too, the victims of the rich man's (or countries') burden?

E-mail: oprana@hotmail.com

(China Daily August 14, 2009)

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