Is it preventable? – a report from Liège, Belgium – Workers World
By Michel Collon
Hundreds of people are dying of heat exhaustion in the Northwestern United States and British Columbia. Unprecedented heat waves hit northern Norway and Siberia. Today, unprecedented floods in Western Europe have left hundreds of people dead in Germany and Belgium. It even led the New York Times to publish a feature article in the July 18 edition with the headline: “Climate Change Comes for the Rich [read imperialist] nations. The following article by anti-imperialist editor Michel Collon exposes the insidious role of 21st century capitalism in the climate crisis facing humanity. (see Investigaction.net)
I was in Liège, Belgium, where I spent three days with my daughter. Fortunately, she lives in the hills, but many of her friends and colleagues live near the Meuse, which is now flooded. These three days have been filled with intense emotions, as we anxiously followed the messages and networks of comfort and a helping hand.
“Unpredictable fate,” say our officials. Wrong. As early as 1990, the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change reported a quadrupling of heat waves and “extreme precipitation”. What have we done since to prepare for it?
Baby steps are taken to reduce business pollution. Valuable forests continue to be cut down. We are continuing to develop trucking, instead of promoting rail and river transport. Nothing is done to create protective flood zones – nothing to strengthen the absorption of rain by the ground.
The north of the country solemnly proclaimed a “concrete stop”, but never has so much been built, including on farmland. Rather, it is a “concrete flop”. And very little protective action is taken in areas that we knew were at risk.
“We have plenty of time.” Is that so? Let our officials dare to tell the victims. Worse: the Belgian government has dismantled the Civil Protection in charge of disaster relief. Belgium once had six barracks; oThere are only two left and the staff has been reduced. These heroic rescuers saved lives, but the lack of human resources, and sometimes of equipment, did not save more.
Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Jan Jambon, who imposed this reform, and former Prime Minister Charles Michel, now President of the European Council, literally killed people. The same neoliberal rage against public services last year claimed the lives of many patients. Their COVID could not be cured because our various governments had cut tens of thousands of hospital beds. (France and Belgium lost 110,000 beds under former presidents Charles Michel, Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande and Emmanuel Macron.)
“This is not the time for controversy,” wrote the daily Le Soir on July 18. But it is of course time to ask the essential question: “Could we have greatly reduced the number of victims?” It is indeed the moment to reiterate that, in the face of COVID, some countries have done a hundred times better than us in terms of victims, thanks to a set of radical and energetic measures placing the protection of lives at the center of their agendas since the first day of the alert.
Among these measures, social teams went from house to house to learn about protective measures, detect cases, assist the most vulnerable and thus limit the spread. During the recent floods, such teams could have saved many lives by going from house to house as soon as the alert was given on July 14, to identify the most vulnerable people and protect them or evacuate them! Is one of the richest countries in the world unable to offer a real social protection service to its elderly and disabled people?
It is also an opportunity to reflect on the remarkable French book “When the last tree has been felled, we will eat our money”. [“When the last tree has been felled, we will eat our money.”] Ludo De Witte shows how the capitalist system, by its thirst for profit, leads to waste, the plunder of resources, the destruction of Nature and our living conditions. Floods, viruses or other catastrophes: it is not Nature which is violent but this society which puts money above all.
However, in this flood of suffering, a great ray of hope appeared: The admirable solidarity between the affected inhabitants and throughout the region. Risky rescues, donations of food, clothing and equipment, offers of housing, help in clearing the mud, messages of sympathy. As with the first wave of COVID, the solidarity of ordinary citizens was magnificent and moving.
And so the people below deserve better leaders and, most importantly, a better economic system, where health and life trump the profits of a minority. Do not wait for the next disaster to impose change.
Photo credit: AP