Kindness for kindness | Inquirer Opinion
At Large

Kindness for kindness

MOST HEARTENING is news that the townsfolk of St. Bernard, Leyte, where a landslide buried about a thousand people in Barangay Guinsaugon in 2006, have begun a fund-raising campaign to help the Japanese victimized in the recent earthquake and tsunami. Mayor Rico Rentuza of St. Bernard says the fund-raising is a gesture of gratitude for the aid which the town received from Japan during the Guinsaugon tragedy.

It is heartwarming to realize how people who have just begun to rebuild the lives destroyed when an entire mountainside buried a village, can still find the compassion and gratitude to respond to the plight of people from far away. Perhaps they were moved by the stories and images from cities and towns in northeast Japan, by the vista of ruined homes and devastation “as far as the eye can see.” Maybe they were responding with the very human emotion of reciprocity, returning kindness for kindness, charity for charity expended to them in their own time of need.

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But the fund-raising efforts have not stopped with St. Bernard. The same story says that in Negros Occidental, Gov. Alfredo Maranon Jr. is trying to raise at least P1 million in aid for Japan, both from the public and from allotted funds by the provincial government and cities in the province. The money raised in Negros Occidental, the report said, will be coursed through a Japanese NGO, the Organization for Industrial, Spiritual and Cultural Advancement (Oisca) which has several projects in the province.

It must be noted that Japan is one of the largest donors in the Philippines, funding both big government infrastructure projects as well as human development and cultural endeavors. JICA, the Japanese international aid agency, also funded research into the country’s own capability to withstand earthquakes and other disasters. The irony, I am sure, is not lost on both Filipino and Japanese officials.

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STILL, we shouldn’t leave it to the people of St. Bernard or Negros Occidental to raise money for the Japanese who are badly in need of aid and reconstruction funds. As well, we should remember that some of the aid money might be going, too, to Filipinos living in Japan and caught by the earthquake and tsunami.

Moving indeed was footage of Filipinas leaving their homes, carrying their half-Japanese children and tearfully bidding goodbye to their Japanese husbands, who elected to stay behind to watch over their homes and businesses.

Fear and uncertainty rule their days, with anxiety over developments in the Fukushima nuclear reactor adding to their overall sense of imminent danger.

There are organized efforts now aimed at raising money for the Japanese victims of “The Big One.” The Philippine National Red Cross is accepting donations for Japan, to be coursed through the International Committee of the Red Cross. Calls for donations are all over the Internet, with, of all people, Lady Gaga, leading the cast of showbiz personalities using the power of their celebrity to call attention to the plight of the Japanese and the need to show solidarity with them. Even “American Idol” has gotten into the act, with proceeds from the lucrative sales of the contestants’ songs going to aid for Japan.

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I HAPPENED to watch a documentary on the Chernobyl reactor accident in the Ukraine in the 1980s and came away all the more convinced that, however much nuclear power promises to address our power woes, the risk it engenders is much too high a price to pay for cheap electricity.

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It was during a test of the reactor’s safety systems that an error committed by two night-shift technicians led to the explosion of the reactor core in Chernobyl. But a later investigation revealed that at heart, the accident was caused not by human error but by fundamental weaknesses in the facility’s systems.

Occurring in the dying days of the Soviet system, Chernobyl had an impact way beyond the confines of the reactor and even of the Soviet Union. A thousand people are thought to have died as a result of the explosion and of exposure to radiation. To this day, the rates of thyroid cancer, even among children not yet born during the accident, in the area around the reactor are 20 times higher than normal.

The cloud of radioactive material reached as far as Sweden and through most of Europe. I remember, in fact, that milk powder brands from Europe were banned from entering the Philippines shortly after the accident on suspicion that these had been contaminated by the radioactive materials, or that the cows had ingested contaminated feeds.

Today, said the documentary, the reactor is buried in a concrete tomb, but no one knows how much radioactive gases and materials are still to be found there, or if they are somehow reaching the atmosphere.

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CHERNOBYL may have been of outdated design, and much the same thing is being said of the Fukushima plant which, so reports say, is finally being put under control.

But still, we already live in a dangerous part of the world, one beset by so many natural disasters. Do we have to add human-made disasters to the list?

The earthquake and tsunami that followed in Japan killed thousands of people. But the Fukushima nuclear power plant, if efforts to cool down the reactor had not succeeded, had the potential of killing even more people, and threatening the safety of populations across Asia and other parts of the globe.

Let’s find other, safer means of generating electricity, preferably through renewable energy if and when we can make it cheaper and more efficient. Better to live with brownouts than die because of a nuclear reactor meltdown.

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TAGS: charity, disasters, kindness, nuclear
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