Monday, June 29, 2015

The Economy Of Exclusion and The Disparate Impact of Climate Change


Mr. Ban, the United Nations secretary general, had brought the leaders of all his major agencies to see Pope Francis, a show of organizational muscle and respect for a meeting between two global institutions that had sometimes shared a bumpy past but now had a mutual interest.
The agenda was poverty, and Francis inveighed against the "economy of exclusion" as he addressed Mr. Ban's delegation at the Apostolic Palace. But in an informal meeting with Mr. Ban and his advisers, Francis shifted the discussion to the environment and how environmental degradation weighed heaviest on the poor.

The encyclical—which has now been formally issued—includes an economic critique of the way in which global capitalism has facilitated both the exploitation of nature and vast inequities among people—even people living in the same countries. That message makes the encyclical a distinctly political document, no matter how forcefully the Vatican insists that it is intended to be a statement of theology and morality, not politics. The Pontiff has raised two issues that are seldom recognized in the heated debates over climate policy: the interrelated nature of the policy decisions we make and the social and economic systems we institutionalize; and the wildly disparate impact of those decisions and systems on those who are "differently situated," as lawyers might put it.

The term "privilege" is usually connected to a descriptor like "white" or "male," but we might also consider what privilege means for other kinds of diversity in the context of global climate change. Similarly, we tend to think of poverty as the absence of money and material goods, but poverty includes many other deficits, including an individual's ability to withstand or recover from incidents of violent weather, to cope with economic changes and job losses linked to climate change, and eventually, the means to move away from newly uninhabitable locations.

A prime example unfolding in the past few days is that of Karachi, Pakistan which can be seen as a clear indicator of future global events in this business and money oriented world system called capitalism:

Over 950 people have perished in just five days. The morgues, already filled to capacity, are piling up with bodies, and in over-crowded hospitals the threat of further deaths hangs in the air.
Pakistan’s port city of Karachi, home to over 23 million people, is gasping in the grip of a dreadful heat wave, the worst the country has experienced since the 1950s, according to the Meteorology Department.

Temperatures rose to 44.8 degrees Celsius on Saturday, Jun. 20, dropped slightly the following day and then shot back up to 45 degrees on Tuesday, Jun. 23 putting millions in this mega-city at risk of heat stroke. Though the entire southern Sindh Province is affected – recording 1,100 deaths in total – its capital city, Karachi, has been worst hit – particularly due to the ‘urban heat island’ phenomenon, which climatologists say make 45-degree temperatures feel like 50-degree heat. In this scenario, heat becomes trapped, turning the city into a kind of slow-cooking oven.


Already crushed by dismal health indicators, the poor have scant means of avoiding sun exposure, which intensifies their vulnerability.
Anwar Kazmi, spokesperson for the Edhi Foundation, Pakistan’s biggest charity, tells IPS that 50 percent of the dead were picked up from the streets.
Two days into the crisis, with every free space occupied and corpses arriving by the hundreds, the city’s largest morgue, run by the same charity, began burying bodies that had not been claimed.
“In all my 25 years of service, I’ve never seen so many dead bodies arriving in such a short time,” Mohammad Bilal, who heads the Edhi Foundation’s mortuary, tells IPS.

Hospitals, meanwhile, are groaning under the strain of attempting to treat some 40,000 people across the province suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration. Saeed Quraishy, medical superintendent at Karachi’s largest government-run Civil Hospital, says they have stopped all elective admissions in order to focus solely on emergencies cases.

And as always – as with droughts, floods or any other extreme weather events – the poor are the first to die off in droves.

The crisis is shedding light on several converging issues with which Pakistan has been grappling: energy shortages, the disproportionate impact of climate change on the poor and the fallout from rapid urbanisation.
Though a census has not been carried out since 1998, NGOs say there are hundreds of millions who live and work on the streets, including beggars, hawkers and manual labourers.
More than 62 percent of the population here lives in informal settlements, with a density of nearly 6,000 people per square kilometre. Many of them have no access to basic services like water and electricity, both crucial during times of extreme weather. The ‘kunda’ system, in which power is illegally tapped from the electrical mains, is a popular way around the ‘energy apartheid’. Just this month, the city’s power utility company pulled down 1,500 such illicit ‘connections’.

But even the 46 percent of households across the country that are connected to the national electric grid are not guaranteed an uninterrupted supply. With Pakistan facing a daily energy shortage of close to 4,000 mega watts, power outages of up to 20 hours a day are not unusual. At such moments, wealthier families can fall back on generators. But for the estimated 91 million people in the country who live on less than two dollars a day, there is no ‘Plan B’ – there is only a battle for survival, which too many in the last week have fought and lost.
For the bottom half of Pakistani society, official notifications on how to beat the heat are simply in one ear and out the other. Taking lukewarm showers, using rehydration salts or staying indoors are not options for families eking out a living on 1.25 dollars or those who live in informal settlements where hundreds of households must share a single tap.

The monsoon rains are still some days away, and until they arrive there is no telling how many more people will be moved from the streets into graves.
Interestingly, while other parts of the province have recorded higher temperatures, the deaths have occurred largely in Karachi due to urban congestion and overcrowding, experts say, with the majority of deaths reported in poor localities like Lyari, Malir and Korangi.
The end may be in sight for now, but as climate change becomes more extreme, incidents like these are only going to increase in magnitude and frequency, according to climatologists like Dr. Qamar-Uz-Zaman Chaudhry.

taken from here and here

SOYMB can only repeat once again that the solution to ending the ills and inequalities of capitalism is to democratically seek its abolition in favour of a global system geared to putting people and planet at the top of the agenda.
It's not going to happen any other way.

 

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