There is no such thing as a natural disaster. That may come as a surprise to those of you who were wibble-wobbled out of bed over much of the south of England at the end of February by the UK’s largest ever earthquake, which went over 6 on the Richter scale in some areas.
But there are ‘natural events’ all the time – 60,000 earthquakes a year to be precise. They become a disaster because of the blinkered inability of global capitalism to prepare us for them.
To give an example: in April 2002, an earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale – a biggie – struck Taipei in Taiwan. Because the US had pumped billions of dollars into this showcase anti-Communist state, this massive investment resulted in a robust city of steel and concrete. Of Taipei’s 2.6 million population, there were only five deaths.
A year later in December 2003, a lesser earthquake measuring 6.3 hit the ancient city of Bam in southern Iran. This time over 20,000 perished. Why? Such was their impoverishment in this oil rich nation, the local population were reduced to building their homes out of primitive bricks made from the dusty mud of river banks, as they have done for the past 2,000 years. In the intense heat of the region these dry out. So when a massive shock comes along these are pulverised into choking dust. The majority of the 20,000 victims were suffocated rather than crushed.
Likewise every year with depressing regularity, whirlwinds hit the Mid-West in the US, leaving a trail of dead. Are you like me when the TV reports come in about the latest grim tale of a twister and the smashed and devastated lives? I start screaming at the TV “Well, don’t build your houses out of wood then!” But they do of course, because that’s all the locals can afford in the world’s richest country.
Three Little Pigs
Capitalist society may teach us the tale of the Three Little Pigs when we are in the cradle. Yet our rulers learn nothing from it. The poorer the community or country, the more corners that are cut to build homes and buildings to squeeze out the maximum profit. And the more devastating the effect when Mother Nature comes knocking at the door.
It’s not just the physical environment that results in disaster either. In the aftermath of a catastrophe, the next 48 hours are crucial in getting relief to the victims if they are to survive. The capitalist state has enormous resources at its finger tips. Yet it is only ever fully mobilised to protect the wealth of its rulers or its economic interests abroad.
Take Hurricane Katrina, when the richest, most powerful country in the world saw its New Orleans backyard reduced to something akin to the developing world. The US military boast that they can deploy a whole armoured division anywhere in the world at 24 hours’ notice. Yet the US state was incapable of the simple task of getting supplies to 4,000 of its citizens trapped in a sports arena for over a week.
Likewise in Kashmir, after it was hit by the huge earthquake, the armed forces of both Pakistan and India numbering over 400,000 were paralysed into inactivity because they were more interested in squaring up to one another to defend their nation state’s interests, rather than help the thousands of desperate people that surrounded them. They were scared that if one of them dropped their guard, the other would gain.
Like the Three Little Pigs, the parable of the Good Samaritan is ignored too when there is wealth and power to defend first.
This article first appeared on Socialist Appeal.
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This post was written by Beatrice Windsor