Aug 25, 2003
The following article is excerpted and translated from an article appearing in Lutte Ouvrière, (Workers' Struggle), a French Trotskyist weekly.
The figures for deaths linked to the heat wave increase daily. [In mid- August France's largest undertaker estimated 10,000 dead of heat-related illness.] After having denied for days that there was any catastrophe, the government finally declared – 10 days too late and after it began to rain – emergency measures that it should have taken at the very beginning of the heat wave.
The heat wave may have been exceptional, but how can an increase of just six or seven degrees create so many victims and become a major catastrophe? The exceptional heat simply revealed the deplorable situation that exists in hospitals and retirement homes even in ordinary times.
Hospitals, like all public services, have been working under a strain for years. Over several years now, the number of beds has been reduced and whole departments have been closed down due to a lack of personnel. Even in ordinary times, many hospital services function only by demanding many hours of overtime. How can emergency rooms deal with exceptional situations when they already have to put the sick in the hallways during ordinary times? The budgets of hospitals have been cut, making it impossible for them to deal with emergencies since they lack the resources they need every day. How many hospitals were without fans and even without ice? There was not even enough staff just to give a drink of water or to pass a damp towel over someone's face.
To justify its inaction, the government dared to say that half the deaths were among the elderly who died at home. If so, it's because it has become more difficult for the elderly who live independently in their own homes to obtain home health care.
A state that functions in the service of the population should provide the means necessary to face exceptional situations. But the state does not function on behalf of the population!
The Socialist Party and the Greens today criticize the government for not preparing for such a situation. But what happened was much worse than a simple lack of foresight; what happened is the inevitable consequence of the deliberate policy of cutbacks in health care, as in all the social services, carried out by all the governments one after the other, for dozens of years. We are going backward.
It is not just the fault of various administrations. The entire capitalist system is at fault; it is incapable of satisfying the essential needs of the population, even in countries where there are more than sufficient means to do so.