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Vol. 75/No. 4      January 31, 2011

Gov’t in Australia
compounds flood toll
(front page)
SYDNEY, Australia—Widespread floods over the past month have cut a devastating swathe through towns and cities, farmlands, and open-cut coal mines across much of the eastern part of this country. The flood has become a massive social disaster not only because of the quantities of rain, but as a consequence of government mismanagement and capitalists seeking profits by building housing on flood plains.

The death toll reached 20 by January 17, with 12 more missing. Most of those unaccounted for are from the Lockyer Valley and the nearby city of Toowoomba, where a sudden downpour January 10 caused flash floods likened to an inland tsunami. Some 30,000 buildings were flooded in Brisbane, the country’s third largest city, with a population of 2 million. As a result of new riverside housing developments promoted by capitalist developers, the damage bill will run into the millions.

Open-cut coal mines across central Queensland have been flooded and road, rail, and electrical infrastructure damaged. Coal miners face weeks, if not months, without work.

A farming region larger than Texas has been inundated in Queensland, with floods wiping out millions of acres of crops valued at $2 billion. Sugarcane farmers on the Queensland coast face the loss of up to 60 percent of their annual income over the next three years. Almost half the state’s 1.5 million ton grain crop, especially winter wheat and sorghum, has been ruined.

Almost a third of domestic fruit and vegetable production is in Queensland. Tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini, and potatoes have doubled in price as growers try to harvest and get remaining crops to markets.

Queensland Labor premier Anna Bligh admitted January 14 that the giant Wivenhoe Dam built on the Brisbane River came perilously close to being breached. On January 11 the rising dam level came within three feet of breaching spillway “fuse plugs,” a special emergency water release mechanism. This would have sent an additional flood surge down the swollen river.

Rather than beginning to release the rising water levels earlier and in a measured way, management emptied one-third of the dam’s capacity in an “urgent release,” according to the Australian newspaper. This resulted in “more than 80 percent of the flood in the Brisbane River at its peak.”

Meanwhile, floods and mudslides in Brazil claimed more than 600 lives. Angry workers and peasants charged the government could have prevented much of the disaster if it had provided an early warning system to rural communities around Rio de Janeiro.

The government was aware that heavy rains were forecast but took no steps to warn residents of the rural communities, the New York Times reported. Residents complained afterward that while many working people were trying to dig for survivors with their bare hands, the government was providing few rescue teams.

Fernando Pfister said four of his children perished. “Do the politicians have children?” he asked. “What would they do if this happened to their families?”  
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