Monday, April 30, 2007

New Orleans Update from an Experienced Disaster Worker

Informative, evocative post from 3 Quarks Daily, this time about Katrina's aftermath in New Orleans:

"Welcome to New Orleans--it is nearly two years after Hurricane Katrina, and your federal tax dollars are asleep on the job. You won’t disturb the slumber of dumb money should you come to Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest, two essential sources of local revenue, where you will register few traces of Katrina's destructive power. Only by venturing beyond the warm embrace of the restored French Quarter, with its familiar old-world charms, can one experience the vast stretches of physical devastation and ruined lives that federal and state monies have yet to address....

As someone who works on disaster relief programs worldwide, I was invited to come for a month and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of various projects in New Orleans and Biloxi, two centers of urban devastation. The experience thus far has been surprisingly positive and inspiring, an unexpected antidote to my entrenched cynicism regarding relief efforts in places like Darfur or Congo, where I typically work.

"The aftermath of crisis in New Orleans and Congo, for instance, is surprisingly similar, and I've pondered over some perhaps facile but nonetheless empirical truths about the dynamic of human response to extreme disasters. First there is the universal ineptitude of governments--big or small, inept or adept, rich or poor--to provide adequate protection and succor to victims of major disasters, natural or man-made. The repeated and insistent rejections by US authorities of foreign offers of Katrina assistance, despite appalling need and clear ineptitude on the ground, is a case in point. Some of these offers the USG later humbly accepted, but by then it was far too late. Government officials are the least pragmatic when lives are at stake: expect delays and denial, not action...."

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