Socialist Worker

What causes flood disasters in the Global South?

Issue No. 2101

Many commentators make a point of directly connecting the scale of the devastation in Burma with the specific failures of the military regime.

This underestimates the way tens of millions of lives in south Asia are threatened by similar calamities, regardless of their government.

Storms, floods, monsoon failures and other “freak” weather conditions have become commonplace, and always hit the poor hardest.

A recent study by the United Nations University has shown that the combined effects of climate change, poorly planned agriculture infrastructure projects, and massive migration to cities that are within metres of sea level, have put whole populations at risk.

It said, “One billion people, one sixth of the global population, the majority of them among the world’s poorest inhabitants, are estimated to live today in the potential path of a 100-year flood and, unless preventative efforts are stepped up worldwide, that number could double or more in two generations.”

In Asia more than 400 million people every year for the past two decades have been directly exposed to flooding, and the myriad of diseases that arise as a consequence.

In Bihar, northern India, the area prone to flooding has increased by 300 times in just 50 years, so that it is now the size of Sierra Leone.

The charity Oxfam estimates that a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius will risk contaminating water supplies in the huge cities of Mumbai, Karachi, Kolkata and many others.

In Bangladesh the Costal Embankment Plan, which for a decade benefited farmers with bumper crops as part of the “green revolution”, has now made the south west of the country vulnerable to incessant floods, water logging, increased contamination of the arable land by salt – and hazards of cyclones and storm surges.

The country is expected to lose one tenth of its rice production and one third of its wheat production over the next 50 years.

South Asia is facing an environmental crisis of enormous magnitude, and it is not one that can be solved through “enforced aid” or “humanitarian military intervention”.

Only if the enormous resources of the region can be diverted away from profit towards human need can disaster be averted.


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Tue 13 May 2008, 19:09 BST
Issue No. 2101
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