I read an interview today with Mike Davis about his book, Planet of Slums. I have copied some key quotes from the article, though I recommend reading the whole article. It has implications for people on every continent. It has relevance to the US and US policies, most immediately in Iraq. It also has particular relevance to West Africa and citizens of the countries of the Gulf of Guinea. Here follow some passages from the interview:
Sadr City, at one point named Saddam City, the Eastern quadrant of Baghdad, has grown to grotesque proportions — two million poor people, mainly Shia. And it’s still growing, as are Sunni slums by the way, thanks now not to Saddam but to disastrous American policies toward agriculture into which the U.S. has put almost no reconstruction money. Vast farmlands have been turned back into desert, while everything focused, however unsuccessfully, on restoration of the oil industry. The crucial thing would have been to preserve some equilibrium between countryside and city, but American policies just accelerated the flight from the land.
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In my book, I looked at the relationship between the pervasive global slum, everywhere associated with sanitation disasters, with classical conditions favoring the rapid movement of disease through human populations; and on the other side, I focused on how the transformation of livestock production was creating entirely new conditions for the emergence of diseases among animals and their transmission to humans.
We have the:
. . . urbanization of livestock . . . millions of chickens living in warehouses, in factory farms. Bird densities like this have never existed in nature and they probably favor, according to epidemiologists I’ve talked to, maximum virulence, the accelerated evolution of diseases.
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At the same time, wetlands around the world have been degraded and water diverted.
. . .
This is a formula for biological disaster and avian flu is the second pandemic of globalization. It’s very clear now that HIV AIDS emerged at least partially through the bush-meat trade, as West Africans were forced to turn to bush meat because European factory ships were vacuuming up all the fish in the Gulf of Guinea, the major traditional source of protein in urban diets.
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the future of guerrilla warfare, insurrection against the world system, has moved into the city. Nobody has realized this with as much clarity as the Pentagon, or more vigorously tried to grapple with its empirical consequences. Its strategists are way ahead of geopoliticians and traditional foreign-relations types in understanding the significance of a world of slums…
. . .
The question of the exchange of violence between the city of slums and the imperial city is linked to a deeper question — the question of agency. How will this very large minority of humanity that now lives in cities but is exiled from the formal world economy find its future? What is its capacity for historical agency?
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Well, here you have an informal working class with no strategic place in production, in the economy, that has nonetheless discovered a new social power — the power to disrupt the city, to strike at the city, ranging from the creative nonviolence . . . to the now universal use of car bombs by nationalist and sectarian groups to strike at middle-class neighborhoods, financial districts, even green zones. I think there’s much global experimentation, trying to find out how to use the power of disruption.
. . . I’ll tell you what I suspect may be the greatest of disruptive powers — the power to disrupt global energy flows. Poor people with minimal technology are capable of doing that across the thousands of miles of unguardable pipeline on this planet.
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The city is our ark in which we might survive the environmental turmoil of the next century. Genuinely urban cities are the most environmentally efficient form of existing with nature that we possess because they can substitute public luxury for private or household consumption. They can square the circle between environmental sustainability and a decent standard of living. I mean, however big your library is or vast your swimming pool, it’ll never be the same as the New York Public Library or a great public pool. No mansion, no San Simeon, will ever be the equivalent of Central Park or Broadway.
One of the major problems, however, is: We’re building cities without urban qualities. Poor cities, in particular, are consuming the natural areas and watersheds which are essential to their functioning as environmental systems, to their ecological sustainability, and they’re consuming them either because of destructive private speculation or simply because poverty pours over into every space. All around the world, the crucial watersheds and green spaces that cities need to function ecologically and be truly urban are being urbanized by poverty and by speculative private development. Poor cities, as a result, are becoming increasingly vulnerable to disaster, pandemic, and catastrophic resource shortages, particularly of water.
Conversely, the most important step toward coping with global environmental change is to reinvest — massively — in the social and physical infrastructures of our cities, and thereby reemploy tens of millions of poor youth.