Saturday, September 6, 2008

Hurricanes and more hurricanes: what is the answer?

We all breathed a sigh of relief when Hurricane Gustav diminished in strength and breadth before it hit the Louisiana coast on Monday. More than 2 million people evacuated from the region, justifiably fearful of the consequences of remaining.

The expected massive flooding that could have rivaled that of Katrina didn’t occur. Still, nearly the entire power grid in the state went down. Many won’t have power back on until the end of the month, if then.

While the reported death toll in Louisiana is 18, there were undoubtedly more deaths caused by the prolonged loss of power, especially among those with chronic medical conditions. Officials of Entergy, the main power provider which has reaped huge profits by charging exorbitantl rates, should be held responsible for the complete collapse of the power system in the face of a Category 1 storm.

But if it is not one country or state that lies in the path of an oncoming cyclone, it is another. Just this season alone, more hurricanes are churning their way toward our continent. Hanna has just hit the eastern U.S. seaboard. Ike could reach Category 4 strength; this time the Turk and Caicos Islands, southern Florida, Cuba and perhaps the Gulf Coast are in its path.

With Gustav fortunately, the predictions of massive flooding and destruction for New Orleans and the Gulf coast region didn't come to fruition

In Haiti, the people of that already devastated country are suffering immensely. Upwards of 200 people died in the floods and mudslides caused by Gustav and Hanna, the consequence of a land completely denuded of vegetation. Tens of thousands of people are desperately hungry in the area of Gonaïves.

Cuba’s western province of Pinar del Río and its southern Isle of Youth were devastated, with at least 75% of the isle’s housing destroyed or seriously damaged. As Cuban leader Fidel Castro related in his reflections titled, “Nuclear bomb,” only two of 16 bakeries could continue to produce the essential bread products that the people depend so much on. Electricity is out. Resources are very limited that would allow for the rebuilding of thousands of homes and public buildings.

The question is: What can be done to minimize or avoid the effects of a hurricane, and the destruction that they bring? What can be done about the environment and global warming?

Our campaign was in New Orleans, Baton Rouge other parts of the state before Hurricane Gustav arrived. We were there, carrying out campaign work for the Party for Socialism and Liberation's election campaign and to join in solidarity with activities marking the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. It became evident that we would have to stay during the hurricane, which gave us an opportunity to witness firsthand what the people have to go through when a hurricane comes.

We also spent two days helping with the efforts of Common Ground Relief’s founder Malik Rahim and other activists to load up their equipment and materials in the Algiers section of New Orleans, before evacuating on Sunday, August 31, a few hours before the dusk-to-dawn curfew went into effect. We rode out the storm in Baton Rouge. Like most other people in the region in the days and hours before the storm hit, we listened to the continual radio and TV reports on the approach of Gustav. -

When the predictions of a Category 4 strength for Gustav were still in effect, everyone around us in the Westbank of New Orleans was lamenting the impending loss of their homes and possessions. And just as with Katrina, the potential losses were not related solely to the hurricane's force.

Levees of the main Harvey Canal on the Westbank have still not been repaired, three years after Katrina. Verilin Purmeer, a New Orleans resident, showed us gaping breaks in that canal's levees and along the Mississippi River. Exasperated, she asked, "How are these levees supposed to sustain an 18-foot surge? What is taking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers so long to fix them?"

Long before the development of cities along the coasts of the United States, islands of the Caribbean, and parts of Latin America, natural barriers existed that helped to absorb the effects of oncoming storms. In the Mississippi River's mouth and delta, for example, extensive wetlands used to extend far out beyond the firmer land. Now they are almost eliminated in the quest for profit. Those wetlands must be restored.

There are measures that can be undertaken immediately, better evacuation plans, environmental restoration, stronger construction, etc.

Even though natural phenomena like hurricanes and cyclones are unavoidable, it is capitalism which is the greatest obstacle to viable solutions for the people. In fact, capitalist production and the system of private property are the main cause of global warming and unnecessary suffering.

Cuba had to endure the strongest winds ever recorded during Hurricane Gustav, up to 212 miles an hour. It blew away thousands and thousands of homes and agriculture. But there was not one death in that fearsome storm. Everyone was evacuated in a massive, organized manner by the civil defense and government.

The Haitian people, whose heroic struggles and potential for revolutionary societal change have been repressed time and again by U.S. military coups and occupations, needlessly lost hundreds of their people in Gustav.

Capitalist super-exploitation of Haiti is what stripped the country of its forests and vegetation. Capitalism is what deprived the people of the possibility of an evacuation. Capitalism killed those hundreds of Haitians, not Gustav.

A revolution is what Haiti desperately needs. Socialism, where the wealth of society is owned in common and where the economic and social decisions are made to benefit all the people, is what Haiti needs.

Here, too, in the United States, we need socialism and a planned, environmentally-sustainable system.

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