Monday, June 02, 2008

A CYCLONE OF DEBT

The recent cyclone in Burma is estimated to have killed 130,000 people in a few hours but this being capitalism the long term effect of this natural disaster has become a social disaster for thousands of the survivors. Take the case of Daw Aye as reported in The Times (31 May). "There was the disaster of her fisherman son, drowned at sea in a storm that was never noticed outside of Burma. There was the disaster of widowhood: her husband died six years ago of an illness to which Daw Aye cannot even put a name. Cyclone Nargis at least spared the rest of her family, although it destroyed her newly built wooden house along with 300 of the 500 dwellings in the village of Thaungche, on the Rangoon River. Having survived bereavement, flood and homelessness, Daw Aye is now facing a potent and more insidious enemy: crippling debt. She has six surviving children, and in the months since the cyclone she has had only two handouts from the Burmese authorities, a total of no more than a few pounds of rice." Her oldest surviving son works as a farmhand for about £10 a month and her adult daughter earns even less mending fishing nets, so in order to feed her family and build an open-fronted shelter of bamboo and palm leaves in which they now live, she was forced to go to a moneylender. She borrowed about £150 but the village money lending terms are 10 per cent or £15 a month, more than her family can earn. She is faced with the choice of hunger or lifelong debt. Daw Aye's plight is not unique. The latest figures available put the dead and missing at 134,000 and it is estimated that about 750,000 will need long term food aid. This is understandable when it seems that about 280,000 cattle and water buffalo were killed and one million acres of arable land were flooded in southwest Burma. Fish is hardly likely to be counted as a life saver when it is reckoned that 2,649 fishing boats were lost in the storm along with 18,000 fishermen.Brother Thu Sita, a monk from Thaungche monastery, said: "It was hard enough to rebuild their houses. Then the problem is finding enough food to eat. People borrow money, they get into debt to feed themselves. And there is so little from outside. All that we can do as monks is to share a little of our food and help them psychologically. But as far as their future goes, they are on their own." Socialists advocate a completely new society based on production for use not profit, but of course natural disasters like cyclones and earthquake will still occur. The major differences will be that no one will live the hand to mouth existence of Daw Ayre and her fellow villagers. Everyone will work to the best of their ability and take according to their needs. In addition when natural disasters do occur everyone will rush to aid the victims, unlike today where greedy moneylenders exploit their plight and all well-meaning monks can do is offer psychological assistance.R.D.

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