Capitalism breeds disaster
Capitalism breeds disaster
This year was ushered in by a series of devastating floods: in Queensland, Australia, covering an area greater than France and Germany combined, in Sri Lanka and in the Philippines. There has been further flooding in the Australian state of Victoria, with Cyclone Yasi battering Queensland, and a murderous mudslide in Brazil.
These follow on from the huge number of disasters in 2010:
starting with the earthquake in Haiti on 12 January, killing 230,000, injuring 300,000, making over a million homeless and leading directly to the cholera outbreak ravaging the country;
storm Xynthia battered the Atlantic coast of France, killing 52 in France, Spain and Portugal;
earthquake in Chile killing 521, making half a million homeless;
the heatwave in Moscow, killing 15,000, destroying crops and putting up wheat prices up 47%;
enormous floods in Pakistan;
the Mexican Gulf oil spill following the explosion of Deepwater Horizon, killing 11 workers on the oil platform and devastating the ecology of the area and the livelihoods of fishermen;
the Hungarian aluminium spill causing 4 deaths and considerable ecological destruction.
So used to disaster are we becoming that if you look at the media since the New Year you could blink and miss the floods in the Philippines despite a death toll of 75 and £27bn of destruction to crops and infrastructure, and those in Sri Lanka with at least 40 dead and 300,000 displaced. You did not even need to blink to miss the Chinese drought, part of a general process of desertification: you have to look for it.
Capitalism’s responsibility for death and misery
There can be no doubt that the ruthless search for profit, heightened by fiercer competition as the economic crisis develops, is directly responsible for the deaths and ecological disasters caused by the BP oil spill and the Hungarian aluminium spill. But the same is true for the death and misery caused by seismic or climatic events. For example if we look at the earthquakes that took place in 2010 and compare the death toll and level of destruction, we can see the effects of a totally irresponsible policy of building cheaply without thought of what the buildings have to withstand. In New Zealand the earthquake of 7.1 on the Richter scale killed no-one, despite taking place close to the city of Christchurch, due to properly enforced seismic building regulations. In Haiti, a quake of similar magnitude, 7.3, caused hundreds of thousands of deaths in Port-au-Prince where buildings have just been put up as quickly, cheaply and profitably as possible regardless of even basic safety, let alone the well known risk of earthquakes. Once built, even prestigious buildings were not maintained.
When we come to the floods and mudslides a pattern of ruling class responsibility also emerges. In Brazil there were over 800 deaths in the state of Rio de Janeiro as a result of heavy rains and mudslides, with another 30 in neighbouring states. These can be directly linked to the policy of building in unsafe areas, despite the fact that January rains are getting heavier. The ministry to monitor urban planning was only set up in 2003 and £4.4bn set aside for disaster containment 2 years ago. “… ‘These are emergency works purely to reduce the repetition of tragedies,’ says Celso Carvalho, the national secretary of urban programmes. ‘Our cities are very insecure because of the failure to apply urban planning’. Short-term, eye-caching public works are the focus. Winning elections is the aim. Dominated by this logic, the main driver of cities’ growth is profit, above everything else. That’s the reason why so many people live in high-risk areas, such as the slopes of mountains. Land in the city centres is too valuable for social housing; often governments don’t force the private sector to use land in this way.” (www.guardian.co.uk).
But surely in Australia, a developed democratic country, things will be different… Let’s see the response to both the fires and floods that have hit the continent in recent years: “It’s noteworthy that the Baillieu government in Victoria has accepted a recommendation from the Black Saturday royal commission to buy back properties not only in areas directly affected by the fire, but also those considered to be in high-risk fire zones across the state. But many residents plan to rebuild or remain in these areas, assessing the risk of another devastating fire as lower than the amenity of life in a rural idyll. In Queensland, those in low-lying areas will be forced to make similar assessments in the wake of this flood. But for many, living in such areas is not a matter of choice, it is because the houses are affordable. And with the population of southeast Queensland burgeoning during the past two decades as families flee the high costs of Sydney, many new houses have been built in areas inundated in the 1974 flood.
Research fellow in geotechnical and hydrological issues at Monash University Boyd Dent says that planners can forget the lessons of history. ‘It’s absolutely essential that we take matters such as environmental geology and flood history into account in urban planning…The historical nature of these things means they aren’t in the front of mind for planners, but then events like this come along to remind us all’..” (www.theaustralian.com, 12/1/11)
In Brazil and Australia, as in the USA at the time of Hurricane Katrina, the poor have to take the risks while capital makes the profits. Lives of workers go into the ‘cost-benefit’ analysis along with any other capital investment.
More at link...