The surge in oil prices dictated by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries threaten catastrophe for scores of developing nations that must import most of their energy supplies.
While international economists worry about deepening deficits in the balance of trade, decreasing credit-worthiness and reduced economic growth for these countries, the talk in the streets from Istanbul to Rio de Janeiro is of bare survival.
Thousands of buildings throughout Turkey, including the offices of the Ministry of Energy, stand cold for lack of fuel oil. Some hospitals have stopped performing operations because electricity is subject to erratic, prolonged cutoffs and the wards are so cold that patients risk pneumonia.
Brazil's president has warned his nation to prepare for a "war economy" in which "enormous sacrifices will be required at every level of society," while in Thailand newspapers unhestitatingly call the latest OPEC price increases "a death blow" to the economy.
The oil importing nations of the developing world have become, as a former prime minister of Turkey recently put it, "like a family whose entire earnings are only sufficient to meet the oil bill."
With the OPEC meeting in Caracas now expected to set prices at least twice as high as they were a year ago, many countries will not be able to meet the bill without major sacrifices and substantial outside aid.
There are increasing signs that the impact of the belt-tightening is spilling over from the economic sphere to the political, affecting both the internal stability of a number of countries and relations among Third World states.
The latest round of price increases means that developing nations, many of which are still paying off enormous debts accrued to meet the first massive oil price increases in 1973-74, must now seek new loans.
Taken together, the developing nations have already increased their medium and long-term debt from $58 million a decade age to $370 billion today -- a shift only partially explained by the declining value of the dollar. According to World Bank estimates, their total obligation may reach $1.2 trillion in another 10 years.
The question repeatedly asked in international banking circles is whether some of these countries can carry the burden.
There has been speculation that some may default and seriously damage the major Western banks that are their creditors. Few banking analysts, however, see that as a likelihood.
At the same time, according to David Dod, head of international development for the Federal Reserve Board, "we are becoming more concerned . . . There's no answer to how much [the less developed nations] can borrow. We don't know. We haven't plumbed the depths."
The International Monetary Fund is generally better prepared than it was five years ago to help the countries hit hardest by the new price increases. But in many cases it insists they take measures, such as devaluation of their currency, which may be very hard on their already impoverished populations.
A crucial change in the financial situation since 1974, according to Charles F. Meissner, deputy assistant secretary of state for international finance and development, is that in '74 the choice was to borrow to sustain economic growth. Now, if a country has reached its capacity to borrow, it has to cut into its growth."
In that sense, Meissner said, it is the least developed countries that will be hardest hit. "They're already at a survival level and then they get pushed even lower."
Political stability, already tenuous in many developing countries, may be an immediate casualty of the oil price increases.
Over the past years in Latin America, for example, there have been riots in the Dominican Republic, increased political repression in Guyana and violent labor strikes in Brazil -- all directly attributable to higher prices for gasoline, fuel oil and kerosene for stoves.
For years, the Third World that does not produce oil and OPEC have joined in portaying the problem as an ecomomic struggle between developing and industrialized nations.
The traditional Third World Argument, supported by OPEC, called for a new international economic order and laid the essential blame for inflation on industrialized countries that squander energy, buy the raw commodities produced by devoloping nations at a low prices and sell them technology and finished goods at high rates.
But in the atmosphere of desperation brought on by recent OPEC price rises, cracks have begun to show along the seams of the ostensible unity that OPEC has forged with other developing countries.
Although the 95-member nonaligned movement ended up adopting the conventional, anti-Western line at its Havana summit in September, the meeting marked the first time that OPEC nations and the rest of the developing world directly addressed effects of energy prices on the Third World.
Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley told the movement, "There can be no question! The price of oil affects developing nations far more than developed . . . If oil prices sap our strength beyond the hope of remedy, our struggle for change will become less efffective as we become more concerned with survival itself."
The OPEC nations continue to try to keep oil from being isolated as an issue, putting the emphasis on "global negotiations," dealing with several aspects of the internaional monetary and financial system.
Such discussions could go on for years. In the meantime, there is increasing agitation among some of the hardest-hit countries -- and among some OPEC producers -- for more immediate relief.
On Monday, Venezuela and Algeria, within OPEC, called for the organization to create a $20 billion bank to assist those most affected by the oil price increases. But such proposals so far have met with only token support.
Mexican President Jose Lopez Portillo, whose country is the largest third world oil-producer outside OPEC, proposed an alternative form of relief before the United Nations in September.
He called for the immediate establishment of a short-term system to guarantee supplies, assure the honoring of contracts, stop speculation and provide for compensation for price increases. At the same time, Lopez Portillo, said, international funds could be set up to meet the long-term needs of underdeveloped oil-importing nations.
Other proposals have called for a dual pricing system under which oil for the developing countries would sell for less than it would cost the developed ones. The possibility of rebates has also been discussed.
Critics of such plans argue that they could lead to international black markets in oil, and would be difficult to implement fairly.
Whatever relief program Opec might consider would in any case be relatively inexpensive for the cartel of the more than 30 million barrels of oil exported each day, only slightly more than 3 million are used by the developing world.
Some OPEC ministers have said they will take up the issue of greater relief for underdeveloped countries at the current Caracas meeting. But few observes expect them to make much headway.
"We are caught in the war between two blocs," a government official in India lamented recently. "OPEC's fight," he said, "is really with the developed countries of the world. We are smack in the middle and we're getting smashed from both sides."