England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Covid-19: as virus spreads to the neo-colonial world, humanitarian catastrophe threatens

World map with countries coded by colour. Europe, US and South America showing up as red and Africa and Australia as light pink

Whilst the Coronavirus pandemic has shown it does not discriminate in the way it infects people, as the virus continues to spread rapidly across the world, it’s clear that the effects on those countries and peoples which are the least well prepared and developed economically will likely be the most devastating.

In predicting a global recession as bad or worse than the 2008-9 crisis, Kristalina Georgieva, the Head of the IMF, has reported that more than 80 struggling countries have asked for urgent financial help to deal with the outbreak and its economic consequences. Yet, since the financial markets have been crashing, $83 billion of capital has left emerging markets! The rich elite will not cooperate in seeing their profits decline.

Georgieva went on to say they have never before had more than a handful of requests for urgent help but that all these countries were being hit by falling domestic demand, a drop in exports, capital flight, and a collapse in commodity prices. The poorest economies will be devastated by the pandemic and the IMF and World Bank will not be able to offer more than token assistance. They will be rocked by huge financial and political crises which will add fuel to the raging fire of discontent sweeping the underdeveloped world.

For example, in Brazil it is not applause which has been echoing around the streets but the banging of pots and pans with people demanding that Bolsonaro, the right-wing President, is overthrown. He has described the pandemic as a media trick and has failed to take the urgent steps required to control the disease. Even prisoners have been forced to take matters into their own hands and there have been mass outbreaks as sanitary conditions have deteriorated.

Meanwhile, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has resisted taking stiffer measures, such as quarantine and border closures, on the grounds that poor Mexicans are unable to afford not to work and has put more of the population at risk. The governor of Puebla has gone further by claiming that the poor are immune!

However, the greatest threat will come from poor or non-existent health services and inadequate housing. For example, though President Modi has imposed a brutally enforced lockdown in India, it will be impossible for the 64 million living in overcrowded and insanitary slums to socially isolate or maintain healthy lifestyles. Without work, millions will not be able to feed or clothe themselves. In nearby Kashmir, which has endured a military occupation since last October, the healthcare system is on its knees. They have the lowest doctor-to-patient ratio in the sub-continent and have 100 ventilators for a population of 12 million.

Similarly acute problems will emerge in Africa. The World Health Organisation has warned that the disease will cause a major crisis. Although nearly 3,000 cases have so far been reported, this is likely to be a huge underestimate. Health officials across Africa report that hospitals can deal with only a fraction of those needing care if the virus spreads through crowded cities, remote villages and among vulnerable populations such as refugees, malnourished people or those with HIV and other chronic conditions.

Typical of the problems the continent will face were reported in Mali which recorded its first cases last week. Government officials have denied reports the Health Service has only one ventilator for its 17 million inhabitants, saying it had 56!

Lockdowns, which are now being imposed will bring significant hardship for the continent’s poor, many of whom live hand to mouth without formal employment. Half the reported cases in Africa have been in South Africa which has now gone into 21 days of lockdown. Township residents say it will be impossible to self-isolate in homes which typically house over 10 family members. The virus could spread like wildfire through these areas.

A military curfew has been imposed in Kenya where military police are patrolling the streets on mopeds beating up anyone who they come across with long batons, of course forgetting they are likely to be spreading the disease through such unwelcome contact!

As if that were not enough, 10 countries in East Africa and the Arabian gulf have now been engulfed by a locust swarm. The locust population has increased 8,000-fold and is threatening the food supply of 25 million people. The sudden appearance of the locusts has been put down to freak weather conditions in the Arabian desert, all as a result of the developing climate crisis.

Other hotspots around the underdeveloped world will be in those areas wracked by war and conflict. For example, in the West Bank and Gaza, which are now in lockdown, the strict embargo imposed by Israel has left the whole area desperately short of medicine, safety equipment and ventilators. Gaza, for example, has just 62 ventilators for a population of 2 million, all living in cramped and unhygienic conditions. Israel has now shut the borders arguing it has to safeguard Israeli interests, locking in the huge problems the Palestinian people will now endure.

The rapid spread of the disease in Iran was of course partly down to the failures of the Iranian regime which at first tried to hide the outbreak. However, the rigid and ongoing sanctions imposed by the American regime has left the Health Service in a desperate state. Despite this hardship, Trump and his spokespeople have confirmed the sanctions will remain in place! Similar sanctions imposed on the Venezuelan regime of Maduro have crippled the Health Service. As the country goes into lockdown, hospitals report a lack of basic equipment such as gloves, masks, goggles, soap, scrubs and 25% do not even have running water. 80% of doctors in a survey said they did not have the protective equipment in Intensive Care.

The overflowing refugee camps in Greece and Syria, as well as Myanmar, will now be massively vulnerable to a huge health crisis. The massive and ongoing problems of hunger, overcrowding and lack of basic sanitation in these camps will be perfect breeding grounds for Covid-19. Once again, there is the frightening prospect of rapid infection and consequent mass deaths in all these areas. The ongoing civil war in Libya has actually been stepped up as the various warring factions have decided they can settle accounts whilst the rest of the world is preoccupied! The first Covid case has now been reported.

Capitalism has created a world in its own image, with huge wealth imbalances and inequality around the world. The pandemic will bring all these contradictions into very sharp focus. Lenin once said that imperialism will create horrors without end, which is what will now unfold in the poorest regions of the planet. Scientists have even raised the prospect of the worldwide infection coming round a second time with new mutations which could reinfect us all again. It is abundantly clear that this system has caused the crisis and will be totally unable to protect humanity from the tsunami of deaths which will follow.

The Spanish flu wiped out 50 million people out of a total population of 1.7 billion. Scientists have alarmed us all by predicting a death toll of 40 million from Covid-19 if strict measures are not put in place. Whilst some countries may be able to manage the measures of self-isolation, social distancing and health intervention, it is abundantly clear that a large number of people will be unable to do likewise.

The unfolding economic crisis which is likely to be as profound as the Great Depression of 1929 will sweep through the underdeveloped world creating mass hardship, unemployment, and homelessness. The masses will have no choice but to resist and fight back. The conditions for world revolution are being prepared as the great mass of people directly impacted by this crisis draw the conclusion that another world has to be created – and that will be a socialist world.


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