Socialist Worker

The common cause behind patterns of disaster

Issue No. 1883

THE SYMPATHY of ordinary people across the globe for the victims of the Iranian earthquake was matched only by the cynicism of Western leaders and their supporters.

While spontaneous collections for relief sprang up across the US and Britain, George Bush combined crocodile-tear "condolences" with demands that the Iranian regime fall into line behind his "war on terror".

And apologists for capitalist globalisation perversely seized on the tragedy to claim that fewer people would have been killed if Iran had a pro-Western government and a free market economy.

Guardian columnist David Aaronovitch claimed the fact that a similar quake in California a few days before killed only three people showed the superiority of neo-liberal capitalism. In fact the appalling death toll in Iran is a product of the chaotic capitalist development championed by governments of every stripe the world over.

Tens of thousands of people died in the city of Bam quite simply because houses were thrown up using cheap materials with no enforced building regulations. That is not unique to the Islamist regime in Iran. It is the pattern in every developing country in the world. It is happening in Iran as it increasingly integrates into the global deregulated economy.

Professor Mohsen Aboutorabi of the architecture department at the University of Central England, Birmingham, has worked in Bam and says: "Many buildings collapse even without earthquakes, because of the poor construction. There are building regulations, but people are desperately in need of housing so the authorities overlook the code of building for earthquakes."

Costs of imports are driven up further thanks to the economic blockade of Iran imposed by the US over the last quarter of a century. And in pushing deregulated expansion, the Iranian government is merely following the prescription of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

It was exactly the same picture in Turkey, a key Western ally, when an earthquake killed tens of thousands of people in 1999.

A similar story could be told of the Gujarat earthquake which claimed 30,000 lives in 2000 in India, a country whose rulers have developed nuclear weapons and backed Bush's wars while leaving half the population on less than a dollar a day.

In 1988 it was Armenia, in 1985 Mexico City, in the 1970s Italy, Nicaragua, Greece and many others.

Today one billion people across the world live in shanty towns. Forty of the 50 fastest growing cities are located in earthquake zones. Already 58 percent of the world's refugees are fleeing from the consequences of natural disasters.

Rampant capitalism and its armed wing in the White House mean more disasters such as the Bam earthquake, and more restrictions on poor people moving to safety.

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Sat 10 Jan 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1883
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