Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Disaster in Nepal amplified by capitalism

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Nepal, one of the poorest countries in south Asia, has been further devastated by the recent earthquake and its aftershocks. More than 8,000 people are estimated to have perished so far and around 18,000 are injured. Some villages were completely flattened.

By Senan, CWI

Most of the victims were rural poor and the poor in the cities who lived in ‘precarious housing’. The Guardian reports the grief of a paralysed newspaper seller: “If we had money we would have built a strong house. But we had none. There is no place to go. There is no one to look after us. Life was hard for us already. I don’t want to be alive.”

Added to their woes is that there is a severe shortage of medical facilities and the threat of diseases spreading. There is not enough emergency shelter or food for all those affected.

But the government of Nepal and geologists across the world knew in advance that a disaster of this scale was waiting to happen, given the understanding about the movement of seismic plates in the sub-continent. And yet the Nepal government and other governments in the region made no effort whatsoever to prepare and take precautions to prevent death and disaster.

The scale of the disaster is therefore man made – it could have been lessened dramatically if adequate preventive measures were put in place and infrastructure invested in. There is a massive discontent emerging against the government due to its mishandling of the disaster.

More than a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line in Nepal. The rural poor in particular suffer from a dire lack of clean water and other basic facilities.

Now the huge economic burden of this overwhelming disaster is also transferred on to their heads. The damage to the economy due to the disaster is already expected to exceed $5 billion – more than 20% of the GDP.

Capitalist governments across the world pretend to be ‘sympathetic’ but have offered very little help so far. A mere £5 million from the UK government made available to charities is nowhere near the amount needed. According to Unicef, apart from anything else, 940,000 Nepalese children are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

In the 2004 tsunami disaster, people across the world reacted faster and donated more than governments. There is no reliable mechanism to translate the generosity of people across the world into real effective relief efforts. So-called promises from governments are never fully delivered. A significant portion of the money that people donate to charities doesn’t get to the people in need, but is wasted through ‘administration’ and at times also channelled to government departments.

Already evidence is emerging about the mismanagement of relief efforts. Democratically elected committees of workers, peasants and poor should be set up to control aid and an emergency rebuilding programme.

This disaster exposes the inability of Nepal’s government and the hypocrisy of the capitalist governments of the world. The need for alternative ways of governing will be raised in the eyes of the masses.

The implementation of social production – a socialist planned economy – could not only lift the masses out of poverty but also plan and implement adequate measures to minimise the disasters that nature causes.

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