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Home > English > Alternatives International Journal > 2015 > 7 July 2015 > Three Minutes To Midnight: Natural Catastrophes in the Anthropocene

Three Minutes To Midnight: Natural Catastrophes in the Anthropocene

Wednesday 1 July 2015, by Sophia Reuss and Jennifer Geleff

The 2015 Doomsday Clock reads 3 Minutes to Midnight. Since 1947, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has annually evaluated nuclear threats, climate change, biosecurity and other potential hazards in order to inform the public and policy leaders about humanity’s development and survival.

The Bulletin set the 2015 Doomsday Clock two minutes closer to catastrophe than in 2014; the Clock has not read 3 minutes since 1984. Why 3 minutes to midnight? “The clock ticks now at just three minutes to midnight because international leaders are failing to perform their most important duty—ensuring and preserving the health and vitality of human civilization.” The rationale is markedly political.

Although natural catastrophes are indeed natural, their frequency, intensity, and consequences take on unnatural proportions. From immediate relief to long-term aid, all disasters have a thoroughly political dimension. Prime examples of 2015’s political failures are governments’ and international institutions’ insufficient responses to large-scale natural catastrophes.

Halfway through 2015, the following unprecedented natural catastrophes have wreaked havoc across the globe. Their repercussions not only threaten livelihoods, but loom menacingly over the capitalist system, debt structures, Bretton Woods institutions, and green capitalist politics.

Natural catastrophes in the anthropocene present us with a clear choice: challenge the capitalist system, or these events will continue to disproportionately affect the marginalized while the international community turns a blind eye.

Karachi Heat Wave

On June 20th, a deadly heat wave hit Karachi and resulted in record-breaking temperatures of over 45 degrees Celsius, the highest recorded since 1979. Heat stroke, dehydration, and other heat-related illnesses have killed over 1,330 people in Pakistan’s Sindh province. Over 100,000 have suffered from heat stroke, and tens of thousands continue to flood into government and private hospitals, overwhelming the health care system.

Nearly two-thirds of the heat wave’s victims are homeless individuals who cannot seek shelter or safe drinking water. The remaining 35 to 40 per cent of the victims are elderly women who died in their homes, whose deaths could have been prevented by fans and air conditioning units. However, repeated power outages across the province have prevented residents from seeking such relief indoors.

The provincial government has responded to the crisis with calls to further save electricity, and has closed schools and public institutions. The government’s response is inadequate.

Advisers to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman, Imran Ismail, have filed a First Information Report (FIR) against Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah. Ismail claims that the heat wave victims died due to criminal negligence on the part of the Chief Minister and other local ministers. The FIR will set in motion the criminal justice process in order to charge the ministers with manslaughter for their inadequate response to the heat wave.

Despite subsiding temperatures this week, the political implications of the heat wave, namely the provincial government’s failure to adequately respond to its citizens, are intensifying. The heat wave has unearthed systemic political issues, including a lack of governmental accountability and frail social services.

Gujarat Flooding

Beginning on June 23rd, torrential rainfall over the Arabian Sea has left over 80 people dead in the Indian State of Gujarat, with most of the deaths reported from the Amreli district in Saurashtra. In Amreli, 400 of 619 villages have been affected, and thousands of individuals have evacuated their homes.

The floods have devastated the area—six major state highways connecting Amreli city to its sub-districts are damaged, 60% of the affected villages do not have access to drinking water, and bridges and electricity poles are destroyed.

The state government deployed the Indian Air Force and National Disaster Response Force for rescue and relief operations. Around 1,000 people have been airlifted out and more than 10,000 people have been moved to higher ground.

Although flooding is common during India’s monsoon season, recent developments in Gujarat are embedded in a series of extreme weather patterns across South Asia. In June alone, the Saurashtra region has experienced over half of its annual predicted rainfall. This is unprecedented.

Damages to villages, farmlands, and roads are currently estimated at over 8 billion rupees ($183.7m). Chief Minister of Gujarat, Anandiben Patel, who conducted an aerial survey of the Amreli district, declared that the kin of each deceased victim will receive Rs 4 lakh. Food packets were distributed on June 25th

Despite these ongoing efforts, more than 65,000 people are left homeless and the catastrophe continues to disproportionately affect India’s most vulnerable.

Gorkha Earthquake in Nepal

On April 25th, a M 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal, the epicenter approximately 80 kilometres northwest of capital Kathmandu in Lamjung District. The earthquake was the largest to occur in the region since the 1934 Nepal-Bihar earthquake.

On May 12th, less than one month later, a M 7.3 aftershock hit Nepal, near the Chinese border between Kathmandu and Mt. Everest. To date, there have been 94 aftershocks of the Gorkha earthquake of M 3.0 or larger.

As a result of both of the earthquakes and their aftershocks, landslides and avalanches have devastated Nepal and neighbouring regions, including a deadly avalanche on Mt. Everest. The total death toll has surpassed 8,500, although rescue missions are still searching for missing people in remote areas.

The Nepali government has established a $2 billion Earthquake Relief Fund for Reconstruction and Rehabilitation. However, according to Nepali government officials, the reconstruction and rebuilding effort will require approximately $6.6 billion over five years.

In addition to providing humanitarian aid, the international community should forgive Nepal’s debt. This could spur long-term financial stability and free up valuable and limited funds that could be redirected into rescue and relief efforts.

At present, Nepal owes approximately $1.5 billion to both the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, $133 million to Japan, and $101 million to China. Nepal is slated to repay $10 million of loans to the IMF this year and $13 million in 2016. The prospects of debt relief are unclear. What is clear, however, is that without a combination of both debt cancellation and humanitarian aid, Nepal’s short- and long-term post-earthquake revitalization will be stunted.