2000s >> 2005 >> no-1206-february-2005



Nature is humanity’s best friend and worst enemy. The tsunami in South East Asia was a major disaster that, for a change, cannot be blamed on capitalism, and one which reminds us if we need it that socialism can also expect to face sudden catastrophes like floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and even meteorite impacts. How would we deal with them? We present a special Pathfinder report on some aspects of disaster prevention and recovery.

What is a disaster?

Most natural disasters cannot be prevented in advance, but then, it depends what you call a disaster. Socialism, not being concerned with who has money and who doesn’t (because there wouldn’t be any) would prioritise those routine ‘natural’ disasters which capitalism is largely unable to deal with. Thus, quite apart from the ongoing disaster of famine and malnutrition, we would work flat out to save the 2 million people who die annually of diarrhoea due to poor water supplies, the 1.5 million who die of TB and the 1 million who die of malaria (source: WHO). These figures alone are the equivalent of almost two tsunamis a month. How would we deal with this? By not prioritising illnesses that only affect affluent westerners. The three largest drug markets today are fat reducers ($28b), anti-ulcerants ($25b)and antidepressants ($20b). Drugs that would help poorer countries are not developed because drug companies stand almost no chance of recouping the average $800m it costs to bring them to market (source: New Scientist, Jan 15, 05, p.41). In socialism, medical science could be re-oriented almost overnight to solve these ongoing disasters.
Population and demographics

The real reason earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and floods kill so many people is that they live in known danger zones. In capitalism it is a question of livelihood and property, either or both of which prevent people moving. There is no way at present to predict population demographics in socialism, yet it must be obvious that nobody would choose to live next to a ticking timebomb, and given the freedom of movement implied by the abolition of land ownership we would expect the largest contribution to saving lives to come from populations spontaneously shifting away from high-risk areas. Furthermore, work patterns in capitalism mean most people take their holidays at the same time, and in the same holiday areas, giving rise to a dedicated and overcrowded holiday coast industry. Instead of moving away from danger, the financial incentive at present is for poor people to move towards it. It is highly debatable, in light of all this, whether socialism would ever be required to mount relief operations on anything like the scale we see at present.

Meteorite impact

Approximately 300 new meteorites larger than 1 metre are discovered every year. Hundreds of larger ones are already known, and impacts do occur with devastating effects. Toutatis, an asteroid the size of a mountain, recently flew past us with only a couple of moon-distances to spare. Two projects, from the European Space Agency and NASA, are already exploring ways to deflect or destroy incoming asteroids and comets. We can comfortably assert that socialism would continue space research, probably including weapons technology, using many of the scientists (some estimate 50%) who are presently engaged in military research and who would therefore largely be out of a job.     

Early Warning

Much has been made of the need for an early warning system in the Indian Ocean. Present systems are ill-suited to tsunamis, which cannot be detected by satellite or ocean-surface (a tsunami is only centimetres high until it hits the shore). A new pressure sensor system (DART) sits on the ocean floor and detects a change in pressure in the water above it, a sure sign of a passing tsunami. Cost not being a factor, in socialism a network of DART sensors could be placed in all ocean floors for even unlikely events. One such tsunami, expected when part of the Canary volcano system eventually collapses, could devastate west Africa, Spain, western Britain and the US eastern seaboard.


One monitoring station did receive early warning of the Asian tsunami but could not communicate it because all public offices were closed for holidays. Even had they been open, communication to people in risk areas would have been almost impossible in the few precious minutes available. Text messaging to mobile phones can get through when signals are too weak for voice calls, but who do you call? One answer is the Cell Broadcast system, originally designed for advertising local services but generally ignored, which exploits the fact that GSM phones can receive short data messages from the nearest cellphone base station on a separate channel from normal voice and text message communications. Another method is the mediascape system, which targets areas by global positioning satellite and then broadcasts to base stations. Phones are not destined to be separate items for much longer, with new technology emerging to have them sewn into clothes and bags. Capitalism may be developing this, but in socialism, keeping in touch would not be a matter of keeping in credit. Finally, even if socialists at leisure prefer naked bathing, there is always tannoy. Additionally, a chip implant the size of a grain of rice could track them down and, at worst, identify them. At present, the Verichip’s usage is confined to Scottish clubowners offering it to customers to save time at the bar (News Telegraph, Jan 17)
Aftermath -disease

Cholera and typhoid are big dangers in tsunami-affected areas, and could double the already gigantic death toll. For our remarks about capitalism’s approach to diseases which affect poorer parts of the world, see above.

Aftermath – food

A food crisis is set to emerge as the tsunami has introduced poisonous salt pollution into the arable land areas and polluted the water tables. Socialism could not prevent this, and is one more reason why pre-disaster depopulation would be a sensible precaution, however populations would not have to rely on their own agricultural production nor would they be forced to stay put. A massive mobilisation of people to other regions would be inconceivable today but not necessarily in socialism.

Aftermath – shelter

After a disaster, rescue services need to supply fast accommodation. Now some scientists, engineers and architects think they have a better and highly energy efficient way to supply emergency housing, using reinforced polystyrene panels. Polystyrene is cheap and lightweight, quick to assemble, it insulates, so it keeps cool things cool and hot things hot, it is resistant to moisture, mould and mildew, and it’s energy efficient. Wrapped in chicken wire and then coated in a film of concrete, it has been tested by the Florida designers in the most extreme conditions and outperforms every other temporary structure, even in earthquake zones.(http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3528716.stm ).
This simple technology may very well be developed for widespread use in capitalism. However there is no guarantee that it will, as many such good ideas never see the light of day because there isn’t sufficient profit in it for somebody. In socialism, a good idea is all that’s necessary.

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