Japan lies devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunami that have killed thousands of people, swept away entire cities and threatened nuclear catastrophe.
And more destructive aftershocks could be on the way.
Whole areas have been flattened. The total death toll is still unknown.
But officials in Miyagi estimate that 10,000 people have died there alone—and 1,000 bodies washed up on the shore on Monday.
More than 500,000 people have been displaced. Millions of people, their homes smashed to pieces, are trying to survive without water, food or heat in near-freezing temperatures.
As the days pass, the risk of malnutrition and disease will rise sharply. In many areas, emergency government supplies are not getting through.
Power cuts are compounding the problems. Laura Shimazato in Fuchu city in Tokyo described the situation on Saturday: “We tried to buy candles and bottled water at the supermarket but there is nothing left.
“We are boiling lots of water and preparing food for our seven-month-old baby. We don’t know how long these power cuts will last.”
This isn’t a “natural” disaster. It is rooted in the way capitalist societies are organised.
In the parts of Japan hit hardest, the few buildings that remain standing have mainly been business and government buildings—those most earthquake-proofed.
Meanwhile, ordinary neighbourhoods vanished under a torrent of mud and debris.
Japan is one of the richest countries in the world. It can afford to invest in protecting buildings and people from the impact of earthquakes. It’s just that it has chosen not to.
In fact, one of the major concerns of the ruling class was the state of Japan’s stock markets.
They used their time throwing billions of yen into the stock market to reassure investors and “the markets”.
As with every “natural” disaster, the impact follows class lines. Those who can’t afford to move, or don’t have the transport to do so, are trapped and cut off from the rest of the country.
The threat of nuclear meltdown wasn’t an inevitable consequence of the earthquake.
The main nuclear site affected so far, the Fukushima site, has a shocking history (see right).
Why is it still operating? Why is Japan’s government allowing nuclear plants to be built on fault lines—and insisting that more be built?
The danger was clear—yet no one did anything about it.
Short-term profit was more important than the safety of ordinary people.