The responsibility of capitalism for the flood disaster in India and Bangladesh

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Floodwaters are ravaging through many parts of India and Bangladesh. Floods, cyclonic storms in some parts of these countries and drought in other parts have become almost annual catastrophes. The fury of the floodwaters rages unhampered through villages, towns and cities, through agricultural lands and industrial centers. Thousands of people die and many more are injured and millions are rendered homeless. The working class and the exploited masses are the principal victims of these disasters.

About one thousand people have already died this year in the floods affecting parts of India and Bangladesh . There is every possibility that many more will fall victim to the spread of epidemics which generally accompany and follow every such disaster. Hundreds of thousands have been rendered not only homeless but also jobless having no wherewithal to live, confronting all sorts of humiliations and hardships.

According to a report in the Statesman, 'Bangladesh bows to the flood fury', 35 million people out of a total of 140 million have been hit by the floods. The death figure has already crossed the 600 mark. According to the estimate of the Bangladesh government and the officials of the UNO, 28 million people will have to be fed free up to the next harvesting season at the end of the year. The total loss of crops and other products amounts to 7 billion dollars. The flood has disrupted the 4 billion dollar textile industry of Bangladesh which accounts for 80% of its export earnings. Nearly half the city of Dhaka, its capital, has been swamped by high water mixed with sewage systems, creating a hellish situation. This has been partly due to the fact that 26 major drainage canals have been taken over by 'illegal' land grabbers. The dreadful menace of the spread of epidemics is staring at the people there.

Bourgeois hypocrisy

The bourgeoisie is shedding crocodile tears for the hapless victims of floods in both India and Bangladesh. Top political leaders of both the government and the opposition are making ritual aerial surveys of the flood-affected areas. Political leaders in the government are making tall claims about the rescue and relief work done by them. The opposition leaders of both the right and left of capital are trying to extract the maximum possible political mileage by criticizing the insufficiency of the relief and rehabilitation measures of the government (criticisms which cannot fail to be one hundred per cent correct). But the roles are generally reversed when today's opposition parties are tomorrow's governmental parties. Thus they keep debate about the floods and other natural calamities on the capitalist terrain, in which lies their fundamental, unbreakable unity. Many commissions are created to investigate into the root causes of the recurrent floods and to suggest short and long term measures to deal with them. Many solutions have been proposed, but these solutions are either partial, or shelved forever or not implemented due to lack of adequate funds. But these bourgeois commissions and their political masters can never say that the decadent capitalist system is the root cause behind the uncontrolled fury of the floods and other natural calamities causing immense death and devastation in almost every year. Capitalism in decline can no longer protect humanity

When capitalism was in its ascendant phase, when it was expanding across the globe and had a real interest in protecting its productive investments and developing a coherent infrastructure, it won many victories against the destructive power of nature. This was not because the capitalists were bothered much about the plight of the working class and the exploited masses of people affected by various natural calamities; but capitalism could then use the available technology, skill, labor power and other productive resources to the fullest possible extent. It could provide and manage the money needed for the proper execution of projects to control the fury of the natural forces. This in turn ensured a better return for the whole national capital.

But today the situation is fundamentally different. The system has now sunk into permanent crisis due to the unavailability of the indispensable market for all the capitalist countries all over the world. So the conflict among all the national fractions of capital is intensifying with each passing day; and every capitalist country has been compelled by the material conditions to be imperialist if it is to survive. This has resulted in unprecedented amounts of military expenditure by each capitalist state, big or small, weak or strong, developed or backward. Every country is arming itself to the teeth, exposing the irrationality of all the national fractions of the decadent world bourgeoisie. The phase of decomposition of the capitalist system, heralded definitively by the collapse of the eastern imperialist bloc in 1989, has further worsened the conditions of this intensifying imperialist conflict.

In such a situation a large proportion of the total government expenditure in every capitalist country is being devoted to military purposes. Even in 1929 the capitalist government of the USA spent only one per cent of the total national revenue for military purposes, but in the fifties the same USA spent more than 10% of its GNP for its immensely expanding military machinery. More or less similar is the case with the other developed capitalist countries of the world. Thus little money is left for the projects for controlling the fury of the natural forces like floods, cyclonic storms and droughts.

This striking imbalance between the military expenditure and the expenditure for controlling the fury of natural calamities is bound to be much more marked in the backward countries. We can have a very clear idea of this from the budget allotments of the present left-supported United 'Progressive' Alliance government of India. 14 per cent of the total government expenditure for the 2004-2005 financial year has been earmarked for the armed forces, modernisation of armaments and military equipment, while only 0.28 per cent of the total government expenditure is meant for flood control and irrigation. 17,112 million dollars has been allotted for the military while only about 102 million dollars has been put aside for flood control and irrigation. What a glaring imbalance! According to the estimate of the Irrigation Commission of Bihar, an important province of North India, 350,000 to 400,000 million rupees or about 8.9 billion dollars (according to the existing exchange rate ) will be needed to control the fury of the flood waters of one major river flowing into that province from Nepal. This river is responsible to a significant extent for the almost annually recurring devastating floods in the northern part of that province. Thus we can easily have an idea of the huge amount of money that will be needed to control the devastating power of the flood waters of all the rivers not only of Bihar but also of all other provinces of India. This will very likely amount to hundreds of billions of dollars. This is simply beyond the capacity of the Indian capitalist state, which has to devote its meager resources to the fulfillment of the strategic goal of attaining the status of a major regional imperialist nuclear power! It has to arrange for money for its prestigious space programme (which is also a military programme ) and even think about manned space missions if it is to gain due status in the 'international community'. How can it raise the money necessary for the permanent solution to the recurrent problems of floods and cyclonic storms! The situation is even worse in Bangladesh.

National rivalries prevent international cooperation

Many important rivers which are responsible to a great extent for floods are international. Internationally coordinated planning and provision of resources are indispensable for putting an end to problem of recurrent floods. But this is simply impossible for the bourgeoisie, particularly in the imperialist free for all that has grown more and more chaotic since the collapse of the old bloc system. In recent times there has been a serious threat of flash floods from the rivers in a province of India in the Himalayan region, due to the lake burst in Tibet. But the Indian team of experts has not been allowed by the Chinese authorities to go the site of the lake burst and make an objective assessment of the seriousness of the threat and the necessary practical steps. The Indian authorities have expressed their unhappiness and their media are calling for pressure on China from the 'international community' to force it allow Indian experts to the site of the lake burst. Rivers flowing into Bangladesh from India are primarily responsible for the floods there. Here also there is no way out of this annual natural disaster other than collective coordinated efforts. But the intensifying imperialist conflict is the insurmountable stumbling block in the way of international efforts to control the problems of flooding.

Capitalism is destroying the natural environment

When humanity has evolved the technical means to protect itself from natural disasters, and yet these means are not used, the disasters are no longer natural but social. When the principal victims of these disasters are the poor and the exploited, the disasters are not natural but social. And on top of this it has become increasingly evident that the extreme weather conditions striking every continent (this summer alone we have had raging forest fires in the USA and Europe, drought and hurricanes in the US, floods in the UK as well as the Indian sub-continent, to name but a few) are also the product of social and not merely natural conditions. Choking for lack of markets, capitalism in decay is more and more driven to seek profit in the short term exploitation of each country's natural resources: thus, for example, logging the forests of Indonesia or Brazil or replacing them with cash crops such as soya allows these countries to compete more effectively on the world market, regardless of the consequences for the local and global environment. It is well known that deforestation leads to the erosion of the soil and greatly increases the danger of flooding. In the Indian sub-continent, deforestation of distant mountains washes topsoil downhill and silts up rivers that would otherwise channel floodwaters into the Bay of Bengal. More generally, frenzied efforts at economic 'growth' in the context of capitalism's decline accelerates global warming, which in turn lies behind much of the extreme weather we are now witnessing.

The relentless demands of capital accumulation, the desperate search for profit by each competing national unit, is leading not only to a growing number of imperialist wars but to the disruption of the whole planetary environment, threatening more and more 'natural' disasters whose victims will be first and foremost the poor and oppressed. Capitalism has become a disaster for humanity, which will not live in harmony with nature until this social scourge is removed by the communist revolution.

CI, 4/9/04.