A Lady's Ruminations

"Jane was firm where she felt herself to be right." -Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice


Saturday, September 10, 2005

Why not move to Indonesia, then, Chris?

AP: Tsunami Minister Defends U.S. on Katrina---

JAKARTA, Indonesia - The minister who led Indonesia's aid effort in the aftermath of the tsunami has a message to those who say the Bush administration was too slow to respond to Hurricane Katrina — it's not as easy as it looks.

"Any country in the first two weeks, they are always criticized," said Alwi Shihab, who took charge of the aid operation three days after the waves hit Aceh province on Dec. 26, killing a staggering 130,000 people and leaving 500,000 more homeless in Indonesia.

"The first 10 days we were cursed for being sluggish. If the government satisfies half the people, the other half will complain. And this one half will be heard by the world," Alwi, a respected former foreign minister, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The U.S. emergency response to Katrina has been widely criticized, with many wondering why one of the world's richest and most powerful countries was unable to protect its citizens better — especially given the week's warning that Katrina was on its way and levees protecting Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans might not be able to withstand its force.

Indonesia — and the 10 other mostly poor countries that fell victim to the monster waves the likes of which have not been seen in living memory — had no such warning. A total of an estimated 170,000 people were killed in the affected countries.
Minister Shihab is most assuredly right. Liberals act as though coordinating such a huge relief effort is as easy as coordinating a Hollywood Party. Not so.

No surprise, once again, that the media criticizes the U.S. for taking so long----especially since, as we are reminded again and again, we did have warning.

But, preparing New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina really shouldn't have been the federal government's job. It is the job of the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of Louisiana. And they failed spectacularly.

The federal government has given New Orleans plenty of money over the years to build protections for the city. Regardless, New Orleans ought to have done what was necessary to protect New Orleans. I believe the city government has the right to levy taxes. Where has the tax money gone? Why hasn't it gone to building up the levees? Read this column by Jim Geraghty for more.

More to the point, the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, and the governor of Lousiana, Kathleen Blanco, should have done more before the storm hit to prepare. After all, according to the Emergency Plans for New Orleans, it is their responsibility. They held the keys to the door, not the President.

And one mustn't forget these. Why weren't New Orleans' buses used to ferry the poor, the elderly, and others out of town before the hurricane hit? These buses are certainly useless now, as they are full of Lake Pontchartrain.

And one must also not forget that it would have been the height of foolishness to put National Guard troops and vehicles into the path of the storm. They would certainly have been useless then, because they would have been in the same state as the buses and refugees----under water or needing rescue.
Although it took several weeks to reach everyone, rice, tents and drinking water got to the most desperate tsunami victims within days in Aceh province, a region of 4.3 million people — nearly 10 times the size of the city of New Orleans.
The media would do well to remember that the tsunami affected the coastline, not entire cities the size of New Orleans and Biloxi. People could go further into the city, further inland, to escape from the conditions caused by the huge waves. New Orleans and Biloxi were completely devastated, with New Orleans sustaining such massive flooding and water that stayed where it landed. Surely all 4.3 million people in the Aceh province were not affected by the tsunami or lost their homes, so the comparison is rather pointless.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who had been visiting survivors of an earlier earthquake, arrived in the province the day after the tsunami hit, having flown from the other end of the Indonesian archipelago.

Seeing the extent of the destruction, he immediately announced he needed international aid, a bold decision that risked opposition from nationalist lawmakers.

"That was a very clear steer early on," said Charlie Higgins, one of the first U.N. officials on the ground. "It was a big step that helped coordinate the responses."

President Bush didn't announce he was cutting short his summer vacation until the second of two levees broke in New Orleans on Aug. 30, inundating 80 percent of the city with floodwaters.
And what size is Indonesia when compared to the United States?

Liberals would have gone berzerk (more than usual) if President Bush had asked for international aid immediately. There would be stories with strong language like, "Bush has been forced to crawl on his knees and beg assistance from nations he has previously failed to listen to."

I guess we here in the United States believe in standing strong on our own. We don't need to ask for help, but we might accept if it is offered.

Frankly, I don't see how having foreigners come tell us what to do (and adding more cooks to the kitchen) would have helped coordinate efforts. The mayor of New Orleans says one thing and the governor of Louisiana says the opposite. They need to work on their coordination, rather than criticizing the federal response. It is their responsibility, after all.

And as for the President cutting his vacation short: Hurricane Katrina hit on the 29th of August. Until the levees broke on the 30th of August, everyone believed the worst was over. Everyone believed New Orleans had dodged the bullet. Everyone believed it would be a routine sort of after-hurricane clean up, the kind that doesn't require the President of the United States to come visit.

Only it wasn't, but that wasn't the fault of the federal government. That was the fault of Hurricane Katrina, the incompetence of the officials of New Orleans and Louisiana, and the fact that New Orleans is 7 feet under sea level and surrounded by a lake, a river, and the gulf. You would have to be an idiot (or else an official in New Orleans) not to realize what would happen if a river wall or levee or anything of the sort broke.
Unlike in New Orleans, where law and order broke down soon after the levees broke, there was little or no looting in Aceh — something most people attribute to the region's strong community ties. Aid officials also were impressed by the self-sufficiency of the Acehnese.

"The reality is that people picked themselves up very quickly," said John Long, an Irish aid worker who has been in Aceh since soon after the disaster.
How nice for Indonesia. Obviously those people don't live in a welfare state where they don't think they have to be self-sufficient. If only people in the United States would remember how to take responsibility for their own lives, family members, and possessions.

Perhaps AP writer Chris Brummitt ought to move to Indonesia then, since it is so much better than the U.S. at coping with disasters. Have fun!