A lot of people have been talking about hurricane Katrina and the devastation it brought, the death, the rapes, murders, lootings; race and class issues were highlighted as well as the personal failures of George W Bush who was nowhere to be seen, Dick Cheney (who?) and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who was spotted shopping for shoes (retail therapy still the way to go apparently) and going to a show on Broadway. On a more practical note, the very poor responses of local and federal governments and agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency have already sent heads rolling and will continue to do so under popular pressure. However, as I said, a lot of people have already talked about this, very often more aptly than I ever could.
One thing that has been rarely talked about (and I guess that’s the price to pay for following US / US owned news papers / TV channels) is the blatant and damaging unwillingness on the United States’ part to accept international help. Of course, even in the face of such a disaster, most countries are reluctant to provide help in the first place, especially financial. As someone put it on Questions and Answers last night, if your rich Uncle is going to hospital for surgery, you’re hardly going to put a 50c coin in a get well card to help with the cost. Watering the plants or walking the dog IS indeed more useful.
As well as financial aid from Europe and the world at large (Kuwait pledged 0.5 billion dollars) and big corporations like Whirlpool, Microsoft, GlaxoSmithKline etc, material and human help has been offered. The United Nations offered its emergency response system, including disaster relief teams, equipment and expertise. Overall, as many as 90 nations have deluged the State Department with offers. .Fidel Castro (hardly a US fan if there ever was one) offered to send 1,100 Cuban doctors and nurses carrying over 26 tons of medication wherever they were needed. Even tsunami–hit Sri Lanka promised a $25,000 donation to the American Red Cross.
But even offers of walking the dog have been refused. Last week, according to Der Spiegel , a German military cargo jet carrying 15 tons of food destined to help feed the victims of Hurricane Katrina was refused permission to land by US authorities and turned back to Cologne still fully loaded. Reason? Out of fear the beef may contain bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), responsible for mad cow disease. It would be good to note that those rations were originally prepared for NATO troops and had been certified by aforementioned NATO as BSE-free. Moreover, the same type of meals is regularly eaten by American troops, in Afghanistan for instance.
On a cynical point, Hurricane Katrina is an opportunity like no other for the United States to start rebuilding bridges. International relationships with the States have been damaged by the Iraq war amongst other things. Countries like France or Germany who are now offering their help are being turned down in the name of national pride. Yes, America is the superpower, the giver not the receiver. Yes, accepting help from countries who need these resources a lot more than the States ever will would be humbling and yes, it would be a blow to the American belief that they are self-sufficient. But international relationships are above all else human and interpersonal relationships and when someone is taking the first step towards you after a time of rather chilly climate, the last thing you want to do is refusing that helping hand. They have their pride too, you know.