At the time Katrina hit (see my blogposting Lake George) I noted that the US Government seemed to be unable and/or unwilling to accept and be helped by foreign aid:
[…]US Government has not requested, and in some instances refused, international offers of help, although offers abound. (Meanwhile the press harrasses UN officials why the international community isn’t doing more, to which everytime the answer is that the US Government must ask and allow itself to be helped.)
Now the Washington Post reports that my impression is supported by fact: Most Katrina Aid From Overseas Went Unclaimed.
Not only was U.S. government turning down many allies’ offers of manpower, supplies and expertise worth untold millions of dollars, while assuring the scores of countries that had pledged or donated aid at the height of the disaster that their largesse had provided Americans “practical help and moral support” and “highlight the concrete benefits hurricane victims are receiving”, until now also only $40 million of the $854 million (less than 5%) offered additionally in cash and oil for rebuilding has been claimed. A number of countries eventually rerouted their aid into the area through private organisations, like the Red Cross.
I know that the Dutch navy had a ship equipped for disaster relief efforts at the Louisiana coast after 4 days (it went there without waiting for formal acceptance of aid first), and that they were on the ground there for a number of weeks. But apparantly other help that got accepted went to waste:
In one exchange, State Department officials anguished over whether to tell Italy that its shipments of medicine, gauze and other medical supplies spoiled in the elements for weeks after Katrina’s landfall on Aug. 29, 2005, and were destroyed. “Tell them we blew it,” one disgusted official wrote. But she hedged: “The flip side is just to dispose of it and not come clean. I could be persuaded.”
A sad story of systemic failure, mismanagement, and misperception of what it means to be part of a (global) community.
Two side notes:
This time the WaPo had to dig for the figures and statistics. After the Tsunami in 2004, a year later relief organisations here pro-actively published overviews of how they spent the donated money. A nice step towards transparancy I thought.
The Washington Post uses the word ‘allies’ where I would write neighbours, friends and/r empathizing and sympathetic strangers. Allies to my mind is war rethoric: it divides the world in allies and enemies, which is a rather simplistic picture of the world. It also feels as if it obscures the reason and motive behind the offered aid. Allies are/feel duty-bound to give it, friends and neighbours help because they want it, because they’re human.