Storms bring out the worst in governments, but the best in people
Alice Wu says disasters such as Typhoon Hato may have exposed government inadequacies and underlined differences, not least in Macau and Hong Kong, but hope in humanity is restored by the community spirit on display
Natural disasters interrupt everyday politics. The calamities brought on by Mother Nature’s fury affect the health and livelihoods of entire communities.
Stormy weather in different parts of the world, including Hong Kong and Macau, have made headlines in recent days. The devastation wrought suggests it is increasingly hard to draw a clear line between “natural” and “man-made” disasters, as these catastrophic events only magnify the consequences of the political and social choices we’ve made.
The storms have been fierce. In addition to claiming lives, and ruining homes and businesses, they have damaged power plants, freshwater systems, and the infrastructure and facilities we take for granted. We do not need to be victims ourselves to see that change – in the way we treat nature – is no longer a choice.
Watch: Severe tropical storm Pakhar leaves trail of damage across region
The Macau government’s unprecedented request for the deployment of People’s Liberation Army troops to assist in recovery operations received mixed responses. For a lot of people in Macau, to see the PLA on their streets cleaning up piles of rotting debris was a welcome sight. After all, the potential risks of untreated rubbish becoming a public health crisis cannot be ignored, and the Macau government made the right call by putting its people before politics.
Watch: PLA troops mobilised in Macau typhoon clean-up
But the decision was not without political risks. That cannot be more evident than in some of the reactions it unleashed in neighbouring Hong Kong, which ranged from genuine uneasiness to insensitive ridicule and outright fearmongering. For spectators like us to be blasé about the need for a quick clean-up, before debris-filled streets turn into a breeding ground for disease, is not only insensitive, but downright ignorant. To bask in self-satisfaction at Macau’s “mainlandisation”, to feel smug as other people suffer and continue to be at risk, is deplorable.
It revealed the very different relationships the people of the two special administrative regions have with Beijing. The mistrust Hongkongers feel towards the central government is not shared by as many people of Macau, or to the same degree.
There are different reasons for that, but there is no room for comments that belittle and ridicule people’s suffering due to politics.
My thoughts and prayers go out to all who have been hit by the recent storms, including Typhoon Hato here and Hurricane Harvey in the United States. They left a huge swathe of destruction in their wake, but also an uplifting spirit of optimism. The courage, grit, sacrifice and altruism demonstrated by everyday people in the affected communities are humanity’s beacons of hope.
Thus Mother Nature also unleashes the very best in human nature. These communities will no doubt rise from the grief, destruction and disruption.
I was in Macau during and after Hato. Seeing the devastation for myself was important, but witnessing the droves of volunteers, many of them young people, out on the streets doing whatever they could to help is what will stay with me. These acts of kindness signal hope in unthinkable loss, and demonstrate the human capacity for goodness in heartbreak.
The people of Macau rose to the occasion, and because of them, Macau will be better despite the many deficiencies of their government.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA