The Facts

new internationalist
issue 211 - September 1990

It is fashionable to say that the problems of the Eastern
bloc mirror those of the developing world. But is it true?

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People in Eastern Europe are likely to live much longer than people in most developing countries - and their children are several times more likely to survive their first five years.

(US 76 years)

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Deaths in first five years per 1000 children
(US 13)

East: Albania 34, USSE 32, Romani 28, Bulgaria 20, Hungary 19, Poland 18, Czechoslovakia 15, East Germany 12.

South: Afghanistan 300, Mozambique 298, Ethiopia 259, Bangladesh 188, Bolivia 172, India 149, Ghana 146, Brazil 85.


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The Eastern bloc provides its people with more education than the South can afford - more even than the West chooses to provide.

(US 96%)

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(US 21:1)

EAST: Hungary 14, Poland 16, USSR 17, East Germany 17, Bulgaria 18, Albania 20, Czech-oslovakia 21, Romania 21.

SOUTH: Brazil 24, Ghana 24, Bolivia 27, Afghanistan 37, India 46, Ethiopia 49, Bangladesh 59, Mozambique 63.


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The economy of the Eastern bloc is a mess, mainly due to over-centralization, low productivity and poor supply systems. But the problems of the Third World remain much greater - and much more urgent.

. The USSR's GNP per capita is $4,550 - a quarter of that of the US with $18,530. But it is double that of one of the most industrially developed Third World countries, Brazil ($2,020); eight times that of Bolivia ($580); and 25 times that of Mozambique ($170).1


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The basic needs of Eastern Europeans are better met than those of the South.

EAST: The average Eastern Bloc resident may have to spend hours queuing to buy food but will, like the average Westerner, eventually consume 33% more calories per day then their body needs for survival.1

SOUTH: One-sixth of people in the South still go hungary every day. The average person in Mozambique gets only 69% of the calories their body needs every day.

: Until recently those living in the Eastern bloc have been guaranteed housing - and at fixed rents. Overcrowding and low quality of housing gives rise to complaint.

SOUTH: About half the people in the Third World have no secure home of any sort.

: In principle people living in Eastern Europe may get access to health services as easily as those in the West. But medicines - especially in Romania - are in short supply.

SOUTH: Millions of people in developing countries still have no access to health care. In Mozambique 61% of the population has no access to health services while in Bolivia the figure is 37%.1

. In the USSR there is 1 doctor for every 22 people and in France 1 for every 31. In Brazil there is 1 doctor for every 111 people and in Bangladesh 1 for every 500.4


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Industrial pollution has destroyed Eastern Europe's environment and is ruining health.

. In Hungary every 17th death and every 24th disability can be attributed to air pollution.

. 88,000 children and 63,000 adults were treated for pollution-related lung diseases in the Romanian town of Giurgiu in just one year.5

. In the Soviet Union 50 million people breathe air containing 10 times the pollutants allowed in Western Europe. Children in the city of Astrakhan have to go to school wearing gas masks.6


But the South has its problems too. Industrial pollution has risen 16 - fold in the past 30 years...

. 90% of the population of Mexico City and 60% of the population of Calcutta suffer from respiratory diseases related to air pollution.

. About 125,000 tons of toxic waste are sent to the Third World from Europe each year.7 Attempts to clean up Eastern Europe will lead to yet more toxic waste being dumped on the Third World.

. The lives and livelihoods of 135 million people are threatened by desertification, mainly in the Sahel. This is expected to rise to 485 million people by the year 2000. As 60,000 sq km of land a year becomes desert and a further 214,000 sq km are so degraded that crop production becomes uneconomic. Global warming, caused largely by the consumption habits of the North, will speed up this process.


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Totalitarian rule has cast a dark shadow over human rights in the Eastern bloc. But on some issues of equality the East is streets ahead of the South - and of the West.

Parliamentary seats occupied by women for every 100 occupied by men, 1988.1
(US 5, UK 6)

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. Around 75% of women in the Eastern bloc use contraception when they can get supplies. Scarcity results in a heavy reliance on abortion, though in Ceausescu's Romania abortion was outlawed. In developing countries about 45% of women use contraception.9


Deaths per 100 000 births, 1980-7
(US 8)


GAY RIGHTS: Homosexuality is illegal in the USSR but not East Germany where there are laws protecting lesbian and gay people from discrimination. In general lesbian and gay people have a marginally better situation in the Eastern bloc than they do in the Third World.


1 Human Development Report 1990 UNDP.
Squatter Citizen, J S Hardoy and Satterthwaite (Earthscan 1989).
3 Urban Land and Shelter for the Poor. Patrick McAuslan (Earthscan 1986).
4 Quand soufflent les vents des? CCFD, Feb 1990
State of World Population 1990 UNFPA.
Second World. Third World. Peter Madden, in New Ground Summer 1990.
Toxic waste
for a small planet, David Weir in Consumer Lifelines IOCU, April 1989)
8 Environment Brief No 2. UNEP 1988
Levels and Trends in contraceptive use,
UN 1989.


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