Sunday, 18 December 2011


On Marlborough Terrace and Harding Street, on sloping hills in the city of Derry (54 degrees North, 7 degrees West), retaining walls collapse following torrential rain. Residents flee their homes in panic. Earth, masonry, vegetation and rocks tumble into gardens, backyards, onto cars and heating-oil tanks. Images on television and in the press are from tsunami-hit regions. No loss of life is reported.

Across the world, in the adjacent coastal cities of Lligan and Cagayon de Oro (8 degrees North, 124 degrees East), in a region of Mindanao, which a Reuters account chillingly reports as 'resource-rich', devastation of an immense scale is visited on people asleep in their beds as flash floods follow Typhoon Washi and wreak havoc. The death toll is over 400 and rising. Children search for loved ones. Families are rent asunder. 

These extreme weather conditions – high winds, relentless rain – are they Acts of Nature or Acts of God? The fear, terror, death, destruction, loss of life, limb and property, loss of kin, the overwhelming trauma they cause – all of these are so very human in scale and impact. 

What role has 'Man' in these tragedies?

The flood waters of war recede ever so slightly in Iraq, with the return to home of the bulk of the American military. The rushing deluge of destruction visited by the shock and the awe of the American military is seeping away. The typhoon of munitions they delivered is calming.

Echoing the experiences of people in Derry and Mindanao, the fear, terror, death, destruction, loss of life, limb and property, loss of kin, the overwhelming trauma  – all of these are present on a human scale. 

What role has 'Man' in the tragedy in Iraq?

'Man' is central to all of this. It is possible to name him Man, without the qualifications of apostrophes. In collusion with Nature and God, creating circumstances of poverty and neglect, oppression, resource hunger and rape, brutality and belief, Man acts to make it so, all across the world.

Where are the outcomes from the Climate Change talks in Durban (29 degrees South, 31 degrees East) that will improve the circumstances for coastal dwellers? Where are the building regulations that will ensure safety of residents and their property? Where are the disarmament policies that will dismantle the arms trade and its pernicious effect on conflict? Where are the peacemakers?

They are not in a manger, under a star. Or among the angels. They are among the shepherds who watched and who tended their flocks.

While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground.

The devastated ground. The resource-rich ground. The plundered ground. The sodden ground. The Man and Woman-made ground.

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