disaster profiteers

Review :

Dovetailing neatly with a journalist's view in 'Disaster Capitalism' by Anthony Lowenstein which I read recently, this look at The Disaster Profiteers examines who profits and why from natural disasters.

Haiti, New Orleans and Myanmar are studied along with Hurricane Sandy and other events from a science point of view. For instance, why does a large earthquake have little impact on Japan's modern economy while years later Haiti is still struggling to rebuild We're told that there is a thread of renewal after harmful events, replacing old buildings, machinery and processes with new and improved ones, so Haiti which had not had an earthquake in 200 years was on the floor to begin with, while Japan regularly rebuilds.

The stages are described as planning before the event, during the event and its immediate aftermath of media coverage and aid, then the gradual rebuilding process. A developed economy has money, experts and workers to spare for rebuilding but a poor economy has only bare hands. The figures quoted in this book bear out the statement in Disaster Capitalism by Anthony Lowenstein, that almost all the aid money sent to Haiti went to companies and workers from outside the nation. We're also told that it was foreign troops who brought in cholera with them, making the people distrustful of outside aid.

This is an immensely readable book for those who want to understand and don't mind looking at a few graphs. Hurricanes and earthquakes are explained as natural processes. And poor countries don't have science students or seismometers in some cases. The photos are also very helpful. Some show images from space of which countries are lit by night. These are wealthy lands. The Korean peninsula is startlingly dark above the national divide, with one bright square for the capital city. We can see the crumpling fault zone on which Haiti's capital is built, and on which its new housing is also being built.

We get great economics lessons and an understanding of how rich people grab land from displaced farmers in the wake of disaster. The rich people have also chosen secure, safe homes while poor people are living in flood or mudslide zones, cramped together with bad transport routes. Rape after disasters, we are told, is commonplace as displaced women are not in secure homes and with their friends. But this applies to poor women. The rich women have, quite naturally, hightailed it out of there with their families, and they won't miss the odd looted bit of jewellery or handbags; it's insured, and they have money in the bank, and they can claim for rebuilding their mansion.

Oxfam International's report in 2014, Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More, tells us that by 2016 over half the world's wealth and resources will be owned by just 85 people. The excellently written 'The Disaster Profiteers' explains in part how this occurs, with contracts sometimes given to those with friends or relatives in government to rebuild or supply services.

To balance the tale, the author John C Mutter reassures us that while an increasing global population means that more people live in unstable areas, far fewer people die each year from disasters than used to be the case. I strongly recommend reading this book for anyone wishing to understand both natural processes and economic ones in our globalised world. I also believe we should be demanding more transparency in how aid money is spent.

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