Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Katrina Hurricane

On Sept 2nd, Michael Brown, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told a CNN reporter that "the federal government did not even know about the (New Orleans) convention center until today." Here is a video of the suffering at the convention center where the people were left for several days with no help. It's a must-watch video - both heart-rending and infuriating.

Think about it - 25000 people stuck in a superdome (ironically, many of these people wouldn't be able to afford a Superdome ticket on a normal day) with no food, no water, no baby food, no medicine, no toilets (the upper rows are full of human faeces, reports say). More than 10000 people stuck in the convention center without the federal government even knowing about it for several days. Again with no food, no water, no medicine. All in scorching tempatures.

And what is the background to this? Any number of warnings over the past few years saying that a hurricane hitting New Orleans was one of the biggest dangers to this country. There were actually preparations over the last 2 years for exactly this purpose. Apparently, neither of these foresaw the levees blocking the water from Lake Pontchartrain - crucial since the city is built on low lying wet lands. Indeed, you have Bush instead bleating that "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees". Does this even sound remotely credible? In fact, there were warnings of exactly this. On the other hand, the part of the budget for the New Orleans Corps of Engineers that dealt with flood control was cut by 44% ($71 million) by the Bush administration.

What about the FEMA? Mr. Allbaugh, the previous director of FEMA said that the federal disaster assistance had become "an oversized entitlement program". Consistent with this tagline, the Bush administration merged the FEMA with the Department of Homeland Security, so that instead of money going directly to state and local governments, was routed through the Homeland Security department. And guess where do most of federal preparedness grants go? Counter-terrorism!

Well, given that the disaster did take place, why weren't any forcible evacuation orders given, even after Katrina was declared a level 5 hurricane (a suspected outcome of global warming)? The timing was "bad", we're told - a lot of the people were on unemployment and were waiting for this month's checks. As a result, they could not afford to leave when the warnings came. What about the government's inaction? Why aren't buses from the area rerouted to help New Orleans and other affected areas? Why are hotels not used to accommodate the people? Why isn't more food and medicine provided? To top it off, the National guard is largely busy in Iraq!

And what do we say of the admonition to "shoot-to-kill" the looters? Why is property more important than humans? The video attached above shows what the primary reason for the "looting" is. The coverage of this is highly racist too. Read the following to get an idea of this.

And finally, some perspective. The outrage and shock over the Katrina (just like the Tsunami late last year) is to be admired, but what about the silence over "normal" suffering? Is a disaster of this scale needed to remind everyone of the poverty in this country? Doesn't the fact that New Orleans had a 40% illiteracy rate before Katrina symbolize an erosion of civilization? Or the fact that in Manhattan, the top one-fifth make 52 times the bottom one-fifth (comparable to the income disparity in Namibia, and much worse than in the past)? Or the fact that one in every 3 children in New York City lives in poverty (below federal poverty line)?


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