China and the US: A tale of two storms

Sept. 17–Attention has been riveted on the devastation wrought by Hurricane Florence and its concomitant flooding in the southern United States with 32 confirmed storm-related deaths. As this article is being written, flooding remains a serious danger even as the storm itself has passed.

Meanwhile, Typhoon Manghkut has battered China and the Philippines. Dozens have died in the Philippines, mainly from landslides, with more casualties believed to be trapped in mud. In China, where the storm went next, there have been two confirmed deaths.

While the storm had lost some of its force by the time it reached China, that is not the only explanation for the dramatically lower number of people killed by this massive storm. The carefully executed evacuation plans of the Chinese government also must be credited saving many lives. “More than 2.45 million people have been evacuated in China’s Guangdong province as Mangkhut made landfall at 5 p.m. local time, according to Chinese state media. Xinhua reported that 18,327 emergency shelters had been activated, and that 632 tourism and 29,611 construction sites had been shut down.”(CNN)

As reported in the Miami Herald:

“On the Chinese mainland, the three southern provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan are coordinating preparations, including suspending transport and moving people to shelter inland, the national meteorological agency reported.

“Guangdong, China’s manufacturing hub, has set up 3,777 shelters, while more than 100,000 residents and tourists have been moved to safety or sent home. The province has recalled more than 36,000 fishing boats to port, while train services between the cities of Zhanjiang and Maoming have been suspended and all ferry services between the Guangdong and Hainan have been put on hold.

“Fujian province to the north of Guangdong is also closing beaches and tourist sites and preparing other measures depending on conditions, the agency reported.”

China’s plans for protecting its people during a natural disaster, which involves the use of mass evacuation, seem well-thought out. In the United States on the other hand, “evacuation planning” appears to primarily consist of officials going onto public media and announcing that people “must” evacuate.

Disaster researcher Mika McKinnon wrote an excellent piece in Scientific American (Don’t Condemn People Who Don’t Evacuate for Hurricane Florence-Many simply can’t; packing up and leaving assumes a level of privilege many people probably don’t think about.)

McKinnon writes:

“It takes money to displace yourself. It takes having somewhere better to go and a way to get there. Having a full tank of gas is a luxury when you live paycheck to paycheck. Spending money up front and then waiting for reimbursement requires that you have the money in the first place, while knowing what expenses are covered and how to file the paperwork requires knowledge not everyone has or has access to.

“Missing shifts at work is unthinkable when every dollar counts. Some workplaces keep employees as long as legally possible, more worried about lost profits than lost lives.”

The United States is a wealthy nation while China is still developing economically. Nonetheless, China has the political will to organize and plan to evacuate people in the event of a natural disaster while in the United States, it is up to each individual or each individual family unit to evacuate when ordered. But as McKinnon shows, evacuation is not really feasible for most people who are poor, so long as individuals are expected to carry the financial burden of relocating and the government has little to no plan to house evacuees.

The U.S. “system” of evacuation  is emblematic of the capitalist system–individualistic, formally equal (“Everybody must evacuate”) but practically inequitable (only those with means can afford to evacuate, the rest are left to their fates.)

The Chinese evacuation system on the other hand shows what can be done to protect people by planning and organizing and devoting government resources to support people who are impacted by the typhoon through no fault of their own. This approach to natural disaster evacuation is emblematic of socialism, a system based on meeting people’s needs.


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