Monday, September 12, 2005


George Bush should be ashamed of his lack of leadership over Katrina

Even though it’s been 2 weeks, it still seems unbelievable seeing the devastation in the news reports from New Orleans and the Gulf coast caused by hurricane Katrina. However, understandably the shock has turned to anger. How can the richest and most powerful country find itself in such a situation where thousands of its citizens are stranded, thirsty and hungry in a flooded and lawless city many days after the hurricane has long since departed?

Being under sea level, this disaster was long expected so there should have been a decent evacuation plan which should have swung in place immediately Katrina was on her way. Whilst many of the residents of New Orleans did get out – there were still many thousands left behind and most of these were the most vulnerable – the sick, the old and the poor. Some of the first reports were concerned more on the looting and violence of those left in the city. I do not condone looting for non essential possessions but I can fully understand if people were in desperate need of food or medical supplies they would have needed to break into stores.

A few extremist Christian groups have even claimed that it was God who destroyed a wicked city. This is just unpleasant. I am agnostic but if anyone judges New Orleans in the name of religion which tells them in their holy book - not to judge or else they too will be judged, is in my view, plain nasty and ignorant. There are many communities across the world which has a mixture people living together who have different skin colours, sexual preferences and beliefs. When a natural disaster strikes it does not differentiate between these people.

In the case of Katrina, the wealthiest people did manage to get out because they had easier access to transportation. So unless these extremists are saying God was angry with the poor then these ridiculous claims do not add up. The fact there are so many, over a third, of people who are officially classed as poor within a city is an outrage. Most of these are black. And there are many cities in America and across rich western countries where there is a stark divide between those who have and those who have not. I find it amazing that countries like the US and UK can spend billions on a war in Iraq and their defence budgets but not look after the well being of its people.

I am not advocating socialism but for government to spend money to ensure everyone has a decent opportunity and access to education and a career. Somehow if a natural disaster struck a city like Boston, I doubt it would take 5 days for the government to react. Katrina could not have been avoided but the effects could have been much reduced. Instead she has exposed a lot of social division within America and disorganization within its own government. A lot of Americans were horrified and disgusted by the poor response of its own government to this disaster unfolding in front of them.

So who is to blame for the poor emergency response after Katrina? First the FEMA boss, Michael Brown has been relived of his duties. Brown was a lawyer from Oklahoma, who had little training or experience in this field but was a friend of the previous boss of FEMA, Joe Allbaugh when he was hired as deputy. Now that does sound like jobs for the boys. Apparently Brown underestimated the strength of the hurricane despite warnings and told his staff to wait two days before going to New Orleans to help those stranded who desperately needed water, food and medical supplies. How come Brown isn’t fired?

Yet George Bush claimed that this guy was doing ‘a heck of a job’. Now it is said that under America’s federal system that the President could not order in help because it is up to the state of Louisiana to request such help. So after Katrina struck, Bush continued to stay on holiday at his ranch only cutting that short and taking charge several days later. However in December 2004, George Bush drew up a National Response Plan which in the event of a catastrophic event, which is any natural or manmade incident, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, the government would immediate step in. However this didn’t happen.

Now George Bush has personally taken charge of the investigation to find out what went so terribly wrong in helping those after Katrina. This is like asking Osama Bin Laden to personally lead the investigation into the 9/11 tragedy. Chances are that the blame will be heaped on the local and state authorities rather than proportion any of the blame on his administration. President Truman famously has a plaque on his desk which said ‘The Buck Stops Here’. It seems Bush is busy trying to nail this responsibility onto anyone but himself.

Also it seems several years ago, federal money was taken away a plan to strength the levees which broke during the storm. If this had gone ahead it would not have been ready in time to prevent the levees breaking but it does show how the American government wasn’t taking the risk of flooding seriously at all. In fact I suspect during the last 20 years, under Republican and Democrat Presidents, America has been trying to reduce the size of its federal government. Strange isn’t - how those who fear big government are the first to complain when what’s left of that government fail to respond to national disasters?

The majority of the world’s scientists have accepted that the world climate is changing and that human activity has contributed significantly to this. George Bush has spent most of his presidency denying that global warming is happening and failed to sign the Kyoto agreement. Whilst Kyoto was a small step and didn’t include India or China – it would have been a significant moment when the world’s biggest polluter, the United States would have accepted that it needed to start to change its ways along with many other developed and developing countries around the globe.
Signing Kyoto would not have saved New Orleans but it shows that these events will probably become more likely when the water rises and we have more unpredictable weather. Also it shows that these natural disasters cannot simply be tackled on a purely local level, but on a national and international level. Therefore George Bush needs to rethink his glib comments and start putting into action a decent structure where government can quickly and effectively help its own people in times of emergency rather failing them

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