Hurricane in Haiti: Not just a natural catastrophe

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For Haiti, hurricane Jeanne is only the latest in a succession of horrific events. This year alone the population have suffered during the violent conflict in which ex-president Aristide was forced into exile, severe flooding in May which killed more than 3,000, and an earthquake on its border with Dominican Republic.

The hurricane hit the city of Gonvaives particularly hard, bringing severe flooding in its wake. The death toll has been estimated at around 2,000, but with corpses floating in the flood water and rotting in the streets before being buried in mass graves, without identification or ceremony, the true numbers will never be known. The living huddled on roofs without food, water or shelter from the sun, and when aid arrived the food was rapidly exhausted. Many thousands have lost their homes while armed gangs have been battling each other for control of emergency food supplies.

Jeanne is one of a series of hurricanes and tropical storms to hit the Caribbean and America this year, and not the most powerful. It was the fourth to hit Florida this year, after Charley, Frances and Ivan had caused $17 billions of damage. What has made hurricane Jeanne so deadly and so devastating is that it hit Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, characterised by political corruption and disorder, as we showed at the time Aristide was overthrown, "Haiti is ravaged by famine and epidemics: 70% of the population is unemployed, 85% of the population lives on less than 70 pence (1 Euro) a day. The average life expectancy in 2002 was less than 50 years as opposed to about 70 in the other South American and Caribbean countries. 40% of the population have no access to the most basic care and the rates of infection with HIV and TB are the highest in Latin America. Infant mortality is twice as high and half the children under 5 go hungry. The situation is worsened by the western powers who have promised credit and aid which has never been paid... To this sombre picture of crushing pauperisation is added the riots and confrontations between pro- and anti-Aristide forces which have left hundreds of dead. These victims have been added to the long list of extortion and massacres committed by preceding regimes, supported by the western democracies, from the bloodthirsty Duvalier, father and son�" ('US and French intervention in Haiti: more militarism, more chaos').

In particular, every house in the port of Gonaives, a city of a quarter of a million people, "was flooded when heavy rains in nearby mountains, severely eroded by deforestation, created an avalanche of water..." (The Times 22.9.04). As in the Indian Sub-continent, floods are largely the result of deforestation and soil erosion (see 'The responsibility of capitalism for the flood disaster in India and Bangladesh').

Decades of pillage of the natural resources by the great powers, including deforestation, have reduced the majority of the population to hunger and subjected them to terror at the hands of armed gangs. In these circumstances of daily barbarism the natural disaster could only become a social catastrophe.

The aid sent, an absurd pittance in comparison with what is needed, shows that help for the victims is no more important than the prevention of the disaster for capitalism, when its profit or interests are not at stake. The ruling class is capable of deploying huge resources when its military and strategic interests are at stake, but not when it is a question of protecting or aiding vulnerable populations.

Alex, 2/10/04.