THE YEAR OF CATASTROPHES
By iz3w (Information Center for the Third World) editors
[This editorial published in: iz3w, 2/21/2006 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.linksnet.de/artikel.php?id=2262.]
When the daily newspapers and television stations looked back to the year 2005 at the turn of the year, the emphasis was not on the many wars and political crises. Rather the chroniclers declared it the "year of catastrophes." The flashbacks began with the consequences of the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean, continued with the series of hurricanes in the US and Central America, the hunger disasters in Africa and floods in China and ended with the earthquake in Pakistan.
The reports describe these catastrophic events as great tragedies. They usually strike unexpectedly and take away life and everything. International solidarity crossed political and ideological borders when Libyans and Cubans donated for the victims of the floods in the US and Indians helped with the rescue operations in Pakistan.
However the media summary of a year also shows how analyses are abridged and conclusions from the catastrophes are half-truths. As victims of natural disasters, we are told all people are equal. Many media are the first to reinforce the inequality. In the Tsunami reporting, the victims among western tourists were in the foreground. While there was live reporting daily about the slums and the flood in New Orleans in evening news reports, similar catastrophes in Central America were hardly mentioned in news segments.
The consequences of the catastrophes are dissimilar. While surviving tourists were flown out of the crisis regions, the earthquake victims in Pakistan waited for months for aid supplies. They spent the winter in emergency shelters and under awnings. The daily warnings of relief organizations of considerable shortages in basic emergency supplies had hardly any effect. Pakistan is not interesting compared to Florida and the tourist regions in Thailand. This is because the victims are seen as foreigners belonging to another society, not only because there are less spectacular pictures from the earthquake region. The inequality is very blatant where catastrophes do not appear suddenly but could be foreseen or arises through human fault. The dramatic catastrophes in the Sahara zone show this all too clearly. For several months and even for two years, relief organizations sounded the alarm and called attention to the disastrous consequences of the droughts in Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan and North Kenya. According to estimates of the World Health Organization (WHO), the scorching heat costs the lives of 150,000 Africans annually. Nevertheless investments were not made in time in agriculture, food and the water supply in the drought-stricken regions.
Scientists insist that the Sahara zone and Southern Africa will be even hotter and drier because of the global climate change. For the Sahara, another temperature increased of two degrees and a 10 percent decline in rainfall up to 2050 is predicted. For Southern Africa, climatologists even assume a warming of three degrees and 25 percent less rainfall. 120 million people will suffer hunger through the changes in climate, four-fifths of them in Africa. However the emission of carbon dioxide and other climate-changing gases by industry, transportation and private energy consumption takes place elsewhere. Africans share in the production of climate-changing substances in the per-thousandth range despite South Africa's coal power plants and the massive burning of natural gas in Nigeria. Still only a few persons in industrial countries are seriously grappling with responsibility for the climate catastrophes in Africa.
Fourteen years ago the capitalism critic and development theoretician Elmar Altvater urged a "solar revolution" to end the "fossil-capitalist system" and its destruction of humans and the environment. In the meantime the fossil counter-revolution is more vigorous than ever. On the global plane, energy consumption rose 15 percent (with an increasing tendency) in the 1990-2000-time period. 80 percent of world energy consumption falls to the fossil fuels (coal, gas and oil). Most industrial countries do not even approximately reach the targets of the very modest Kyoto protocol on protecting the atmosphere.
On this background, all the shock over hunger catastrophes remains without consequence if a radical change of course of local and environmental policy is not resolved. Hunger disasters will be the normal state, not emergency incidents, as long as social-ecological initiatives do not have more importance in consciousness and real changes of the dominant destructive mode of production do not occur. No one can resign to that.