In the midst of the Covid-19 challenge, the country has to now prepare for the impending landfall of super cyclonic storm Amphan today.
Both Odisha and Bengal are in Amphan’s path as it is expected to make landfall between Digha (Bengal) and Hatiya Islands (Bangladesh) near the Sundarbans.
With wind speeds of 175-195 kmph at the time of hitting land, Amphan certainly has the potential to cause much damage.
Evacuation procedures in coastal areas have already begun with around 3 lakh people moved to relief camps in Bengal and another 11 lakh being transported to shelters in Odisha.
Plus, 41National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams have been deployed in both states.
While cyclonic storms in the Bay of Bengal are recurring phenomena, preparations this time have been complicated due to Covid-19.
For example, in Odisha cyclone shelters are being used as quarantine facilities for migrants returning from other states.
In fact, there are currently 36,200 people under quarantine in 198 cyclone shelters.
This has forced the state administration to look for additional facilities to house the evacuees.
Add to this the need to maintain physical distancing in view of the pandemic.
Thus, the double whammy of Covid-19 and Amphan will seriously test our disaster response mechanism.
The lesson here is that the country needs to be prepared to handle two natural disasters simultaneously.
True, no one could have predicted the current situation.
But with studies showing extreme weather phenomena increasing in frequency over the last two decades, concurrent calamities have to be factored in.
Preparedness would go back to empowering grassroots administration, strengthening NDRF further and massively investing in public health.
Let states not recede behind entry barriers
If a uniform goods and services tax (GST), launched with much fanfare in 2017, aimed to unify India’s fragmented markets, the coronavirus crisis threatens to balkanize the Union.
Central government gaveindividual states the authority to slot administrative units into colour-coded zones of risk on their own, and determine some relaxations within a common set of guidelines.
It is pragmatic and it uphelds the spirit of federalism.
PROBLEM: Reports of traffic choked at some state borders, with special permits demanded.
Suggests a lack of policy cohesion among various administrations that could keep us gridlocked.
Karnataka, for example, has barred the entry of people from three specific states that have high covid infection rates: Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.
Not only is this troublesome on principle for being arbitrary, it requires a process of checkpoint screening that hardens the state’s borders and delays the entry of all others.
For the country to emerge from its lockdown, we need simplification, not complication.
No state economy is an island unto itself.
State governments should coordinate a plan to dismantle their checkposts.
Barring a few exceptions for the sake of public security, the right of citizens to move around within the territory cannot be held in abeyance beyond a point.
State administrations would do well to rethink their isolationist border policies and act in the common interest of all Indians.
The changing nature of Chinese diplomacy
U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt:“speak softly and carry a big stick: you will go far”
If Mao Zedong represented the crude face of Chinese communism, then Zhou was the epitome of its refinement.
The stick was used rarely, and only when all other means of persuasion failed.
When General Douglas MacArthur’s armies crossed into North Korea, Zhou summoned the Indian Ambassador in Beijing to deliver a message to the Americans: “If the U.S. troops cross the 38th Parallel... we will intervene.” Zhou Enlai
When, however, the U.S., regardless of Chinese concerns, crossed the 38th Parallel, the Chinese attacked and brought the world’s greatest power to a standstill.
A few years later, in 1954, the Chinese made their entry onto the world stage in Geneva.
The Vietnamese were winning against the French in the First Indochina War, and the Americans were preparing to intervene fearing that another “domino” would fall to communism.
China’s self-interest lay in ending this war while denying the U.S. a foothold in its backyard.
A year later, at the Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung, Zhou used the same tactics to pursue another objective; the leaders of the Afro-Asian countries.
Zhou’s style of diplomacy came to define Chinese foreign policy over the next half-century.
The strategy was consistent: avoid isolation, build solidarity with non-aligned countries, divide the West.
The tactics were called ‘united front’ — isolate the main threat by building unity with all other forces.
Zhou had taught Chinese diplomats that the real advantage in negotiations was to know more than the other side.
So seductive was Chinese diplomacy that the Americans even broke their own sanctions imposed after the 1989 ‘Tian An Men Incident’, within a matter of four weeks.
A decade later, the U.S. and the European Union bought into Chinese assurances that it would soon transition to a market economy, and helped steer it into the World Trade Organization.
Deng died in 1997. China prospered just as Deng had imagined.
A new generation of diplomats, with knowledge of the English language and a careerist mindset, has started to whittle away at the anchors laid down by Zhou and Deng.
Arrogance has replaced humility.
Persuasion is quickly abandoned in favour of the stick when countries take actions contrary to Chinese wishes.
Statements of fact or reasoned opinion are seen by them as insult or humiliation.
They expect to receive gratitude for everything they do, including handling COVID-19, as if it was only done with the foreigner in mind.
China, post-COVID-19, will be operating in a very different external environment.
It may wish to recall what Kissinger told the White House staff in July 1971 after his trip to the country: “The Chinese style is impressive. The Russians will fight you for every nickel and dime, and elbow you at every level, and lose a million dollars of goodwill in the process. The Chinese have a sense of the longer trends and focus on that, not on ploymanship.”
The Chinese appear to have lost that style.
Pakistan as both terror perpetrator and victim
Terrorist threat emanating from Pakistan.
Deliberate policy of the Pakistani state to create and foster terrorist groups in order to engage in low intensity warfare with its neighbours.
Pakistan first operationalised this strategy in regard to Afghanistan following the overthrow of Zahir Shah by his cousin Daud Khan in 1973 and intensified it with the cooperation of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia after the Marxist coup of 1978.
The Soviet withdrawal in 1989 left the Pakistani military with a large surplus of Islamist fighters that it had trained and armed.
Islamabad decided to use this “asset” to intensify the insurgency in the Kashmir Valley.
However, the decade-long Afghan “jihad” had also radicalised a substantial segment of the Pakistani population.
But, it soon became clear that Pakistan had created a set of Frankenstein’s monsters some of whom turned against their creator.
Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the group involved in the latest terrorist encounter in Handwara, is a classic example of a “loyalist” terrorist organisation that has played by the rules set by the Pakistani military.
This is why the LeT and its front organisations have continued to receive the military’s patronage and unstinting support.
At the other end of this good-bad spectrum lies the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has ideological affinity with the Afghan Taliban.
Leading Pakistan watcher Christine Fair in her book, Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War, explains that the difference between LeT and JeM lies in the fact that while the former is more pragmatic and less ideological, the latter is highly ideological and sectarian.
This narrative makes one thing very clear.
Many of the terrorist groups were deliberately created by the Pakistani state to serve its purposes.
However, its ability to control the various terrorist outfits is uneven and some of them have turned against their creator.
It establishes the fact that using terrorist outfits for state objectives is a highly risky business whose blowback cannot be predicted and can have very negative consequences for the stability of the state itself.
We need social physicians
While medicine remains central to public health, medical academia has never been a torch-bearer for the public health cause.
Apart from the inherently individualistic character of medicine, part of the reason can also be located in Indian medical education originally “carrying the cultural accretions of the West”, as D. Banerjee puts it.
Multiple policy deliberations have upheld the idea of training a socially oriented physician responsive to community and public health needs.
This orthodox edifice of medicine has come under attack thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is both a medical and a social calamity.
Early this year, there were debates on why elite professional institutions such as top medical colleges rarely become the centre of political ruckus and remain free of strong ideological leanings, unlike many of their humanities counterparts.
The Competency-based Undergraduate Curriculum applicable since 2019 emphasises on inculcating communication skills and empathy in medical students to improve clinical practice.
However, that such empathy can create stronger positive ripples at the societal level has been given little attention.
This is not to suggest that medical colleges must be modelled after the highly politicised humanities institutions. The idea is to emulate purely the ‘social orientation’ element.
It is common knowledge that public health has perennially been one of our highly neglected items.
For this, the foundation of India’s medical education would need to be remodelled along biosocial lines.
There is need for radically enhancing community exposure during both undergraduate and postgraduate years.
For this, medical training will need to shift a considerable part of its base away from medical colleges in cities to lower-level health facilities and the community, along with seamless integration of medical colleges with the health services system.
Also, there is need to pep up thecommunity medicine curriculum and teach health policy to medical students emphasising particularly the sociological and political-economic aspects.
All of this should confer the ability to critically analyse how health and medicine function in the bigger picture — creating a socially oriented physician capable of relating with macro-level challenges in public health apart from practising social medicine.
A push for any reform cannot do without acknowledging the imperative of social physicians for better public health.
Health Ministry issues new guidelines for workplaces
With the easing of the lockdown measures and with more offices/workplaces starting operations, the Ministry directed that anyone diagnosed as a suspected/confirmed case of COVID-19 should immediately inform the office authorities and isolate themselves.
While there was no need to close the entire office building/halt work if one or two cases were detected, a large outbreak would require that the building be shut down for 48 hours and disinfected, it stated.
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Hotter oceans spawn super cyclones
Super cyclone Amphan that is barrelling towards West Bengal is the strongest storm to have formed in the BoB since the Super Cyclone of 1999 that ravaged Paradip in Odisha, said Director-General, India Meteorological Department M. Mohapatra.
Higher than normal temperatures in the Bay of Bengal (BoB) may be whetting ‘super cyclones’