[News] If I Didn’t Believe, I Wouldn’t Know How to Breathe

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Oct 1 11:11:56 EDT 2020

https://www.thetricontinental.org/newsletterissue/40-2020-poverty/ If I
Didn’t Believe, I Wouldn’t Know How to Breathe: The Fortieth Newsletter
Vijay Prashad - October 1, 2020


[image: Liu Xiaodong (China), Refugees 4, 2015.]

Liu Xiaodong (China), *Refugees 4*, 2015.

Dear friends,

Greetings from the desk of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

Here’s a story that encapsulates the terrible situation of our world:
Associated Press reporters were on a Turkish coast guard vessel which
picked up 37 migrants, including 18 children, from two orange life-rafts in
the Aegean Sea on 12 September. The refugees were from Afghanistan, a
country that shudders from an endless war. One of the refugees, Omid
Hussain Nabizada told
the reporters that the Greek authorities held them in Lesbos, put them onto
life rafts, and then sent them into the turbulent seas. They were left
there to die.

Since 1 March, Greece has suspended the right of refugees to claim asylum.
The authorities have placed refugees into makeshift camps. The Moria
Reception and Identification Centre in Lesbos (Greece) was built to hold
3,500 people but at its height it housed 20,000 people (due to the
pandemic, the population was reduced to 12,000). Four days before Nabizada
and others were rescued from the Aegean Sea, a fire tore through the Moria
camp. Around 9,400 people lost their overcrowded shelters. This camp was
constructed in 2015 to briefly hold migrants as they made their way to
Europe from Afghanistan, Syria, and other areas where the West has
perpetuated its many wars.

When the other European countries began to shut their doors to refugees,
Greece became Europe’s plug; the refugees got stuck in places such as Moria.

In August, the engine of a boat exploded off the coast of Zuwarah (Libya),
killing 45 refugees from Chad, Mali, Ghana, and Senegal. Fortunately, 37
people survived the explosion. It was a reminder that the passage of
refugees across the Mediterranean Sea has not abated. In fact, the UN
Refugee Agency said
that 2020 has seen a threefold increase in refugee traffic in Italy and
Malta as compared to 2019. The numbers of those on the move has not slowed
down, despite the pandemic.

During the Great Lockdown, as aircraft fly relatively empty across much of
the world, rubber boats and old trucks continue to carry large numbers of
the impoverished peoples of our planet in search of a better life.

[image: Oweena Camille Fogarty (Mexico), Untitled.]

Oweena Camille Fogarty (Mexico), Untitled.

In 2018, a World Bank study
showed that half the world’s population – 3.4 billion people – live below
the poverty line, a number that increased during the pandemic. The Bank
used the measure that a person who makes less than $5.50 per day is poor.
Over the course of the past half century, states have increasingly
privatised the delivery of key social services, such as education,
childcare, health care, sanitation, and housing. These social costs are now
borne by people with meagre means. That is why, in 2006, economist Lant
Pritchett suggested
that the threshold for measuring the poverty line be lifted to $10 a day.
But even at this level, it is just not possible to cover the basic costs in
a privatised society. Nonetheless, based on this threshold, Pritchett
published an important paper which suggested that 88% of the world’s
population lived in poverty.

The crushing weight of the Great Lockdown during the pandemic has worsened
the social and economic condition of the vast majority of the world’s
population. In June, the World Bank estimated
that around 177 million people will slip into ‘extreme poverty’, the first
such slip in thirty years. Half of those who will fall under the poverty
line due to the pandemic will be in South Asia, while a third will be in
Sub-Saharan Africa.

A new study
from the International Labour Organisation shows that the working people
around the planet lost 10.7% of their income in the first nine months of
2020; this equals a loss of $3.5 trillion. Workers in the poorer states
bore the brunt, with losses of around 15% of their income, while workers in
the richer countries saw losses of 9% of their income. The ILO found steady
cuts in employment in the first two quarters of the year, with every
indication that these losses will continue for the rest of the year, *if
not permanently*.

[image: Maysa Yousef (Palestine), Identity of the Soul, 2014.]

Maysa Yousef (Palestine), *Identity of the Soul*, 2014.

Migrants like Omid Hussain Nabizada leave their homes where employment has
collapsed and make perilous journeys. If they survive the passage, they at
best find menial jobs (if they are able to find employment at all), earn a
pittance, save that money, and then send it home. In 2019, such migrants
sent $554 billion in remittances to their families in their countries of
origin. Some countries – such as Haiti, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan – rely
<https://www.theglobaleconomy.com/rankings/remittances_percent_gdp/> on
these remittances for more than a quarter of their Gross Domestic Product
(GDP). In April 2020, the World Bank estimated
the ‘sharpest decline of remittances in recent history’, dropping by 19.7%
to $445 billion. These declines, along with a decline in foreign direct
investment and the collapse of exports for many of the countries of the
Global South, have already created a dangerous balance of payments problems
in many countries.

Refusal by wealthy bondholders (London Club), and the countries that back
them (Paris Club), to allow for debt cancellation
or even proper debt suspension puts immense pressure on these states as
well as on the families that will lose an important source of basic income.

The lack of basic services – particularly health care in the midst of this
pandemic – will create deeper distress. In 2017, the World Bank and the
World Health Organisation warned
that half of the world’s population did not have access to essential health
services and that, each year, 100 million people are driven into poverty by
the lack of income to pay for health care costs. This number is
conservative, since in India alone – according
to the national survey on social consumption – 55 million Indians were
impoverished due to health care costs in 2011-12. That warning was not

[image: Francisco Amighetti (Costa Rica), La Niña y el viento, 1969.]

Francisco Amighetti (Costa Rica), *La Niña y el viento*, 1969.

On 10 September 2020, World Suicide Prevention Day, the WHO’s
Director-General Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus reminded
us that every forty seconds someone somewhere dies by suicide. Importantly,
he noted that the means by which many commit suicide must be kept away from
people, ‘including pesticides and firearms’. The mention of pesticides
points a finger at the endless suicide epidemic in rural India, where
hundreds of thousands of farmers and agricultural workers have taken their
lives; this was revealed in a series of powerful reports
by Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research Senior Fellow P. Sainath.
The National Crime Records Bureau in India showed
<https://ncrb.gov.in/en/accidental-deaths-suicides-india-2019> that, in
2019 – before the pandemic – every fourth suicide was committed by daily
wage earners. These are the people hardest hit by the pandemic and the
Great Lockdown; we have to wait until next year’s report to grasp the full
impact of the deep social impact on farmers, agricultural workers, and
daily wage earners, all of whom will be struck by the three
pro-agribusiness farm bills foisted on the Indian population by its
government this month.

Last week, the foreign correspondent Andre Vlteck (1962-2020) died in
Istanbul. A few years ago, André introduced me to the Cuban singer Silvio
Rodríguez, particularly his song *La Maza*. Here are a few lines from
Silvio, in honour of Andre:

*If I didn’t believe in what I believe*
*If I didn’t believe in something pure*
*If I didn’t believe in every wound*
*If I didn’t believe in what hurts*
*If I didn’t believe in what stays*
*If I didn’t believe in what fights*
*What would my heart be?*
*What would the mason’s hammer be without a quarry?*

The greatest tyrant in our time is a social system that impoverishes the
majority of the world’s people, such as the people who drowned recently in
the Mediterranean Sea, so that a small minority can live a life of luxury.
If I didn’t believe in another world, I would find it hard to breathe.

Warmly, Vijay.
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