Hurricane Katrina has opened up something of a hornet’s nest in a particular forum in which I have involvement. I thought at the time that said forum was not the correct venue for such a discussion and I wanted to open it up to more scrutiny here.

The question arose of facilitating aid by donations to the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the Southern United States. I expressed a little caution based on the idea that with the US being the richest country in the world I wanted to see exactly what the incumbant government would do in response before looking at what should be pledged from external sources. it was intimated that I was not being fair, something to which I took some exception.

I was warned though, quite correctly, that just because the US is the richest nation in the world does not mean it does not have poor people. This is indeed true, one could argue that perhaps a nation so rich should not have such a level of poverty but that is another story and what is not open to discussion is that such a group exist.
It was said to me that whilst the US government pledged a huge amount to help the Asian Tsunami appeal it was the US people that filled the gap. Actually none of the major nations that pledged large sums of money to the asian countries affected by the tsunami came even close to matching the figures they trotted out at the time. It was a tasteless piece of political opportunism crass, callous and all too common. However what is also interesting to note is that the actual figures pledged per capita would not be so difficult to achieve for certain countries in the case of the US the $350,000,000 breaks down to a mere $1.18 per person, this compares with Kuwait at $42.81 per person and Australia at $40.81 at the top of the list, in fact the US is 24th in the list slightly below the UK at $1.54 per person. I wonder how much this compares to the amount given to US animal charities?

Another tenet that was offered was that US citizens were the first to put their hands in their pockets in general when it came to disasters elsewhere. I must admit I don’t remember the US being especially evident in terms of aid in any form for many disasters that I can remember from the Ethiopian famine of the 1980s through the Rwandan genocide to present day Niger but I decided that this needed further exploration and I found the following statistics:

The net official development assistance (ODA) from Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations to developing countries and multilateral organizations. ODA is defined as financial assistance that is concessional in character, has the main objective to promote economic development and welfare of the less developed countries (LDCs), and contains a grant element of at least 25%. Top of the list is Luxembourg contributing $313.71 per person, followed by Norway $304.80 and Denmark $300.05. France comes in 8th with $89.02, Ireland 10th $70.47 then the United Kingdom $69.48. The other major countries come in as follows Germany $67.93, Japan $62.00, Canada $60.96, Australia $44.49, Spain $32.96 and in 20th position the United States with $23.33. So that one didn’t seem to back up the claim. Naturally one must contrast this with the relevant GDP stats 1. British Virgin Islands – $110321.07 per person; 2. Luxembourg – $58198.22; 3. Norway – $39842.88; 4. United States – $39731.63 per person. So for Luxembourg that is approximately 0.5% and in the US case it is 0.05%. Hardly breaking the bank on that evidence is it? Consider this in the context of latest figures indicating that there are nearly 50 countries in the world where over 50% of the total population lives below the poverty line.

A common refrain is that one should not judge the people on the strength of their government and that just because one disagrees with US foreign policy should not preclude helping the ordinary people. I would have more truc with this argument were it not often the same sort of people telling me that one cannot send money or aid to Africa or Latin America and the like because of their corrupt governments. I’m afraid I have equally the same mistrust of a government that governs for the corporations and not the people. I would like to know how much government financial assistance will be going to the oil companies with fields in the affected areas as opposed to that going to rebuild towns and communities.

Finally I heard a point which I confess made my blood really boil. A criticism was levelled at the Red Cross for being unreliable interms of their dealings. The specific citation was that in the case of blood donations in the wake of the 11th of September the Red Cross diverted some of the blood to other sources. Now my initial thought was whether this was to some nefarious source, blood for money and the like but this was not the case, the example was used to illustrate nothing more than the fact that people were giving blood for a specific cause and it was perhaps not all going there. Firstly I find this a deeply uncomfortable argument that one should be giving help but only provided it goes to a certain place. Secondly I wonder whether people live in the real world if they don’t think that an organisation like the Red Cross has to make policy decisions to help those who might otherwise not get help. At the time of the furore surrounding the 11th of September how many other global catastrophes were there that got no air time. How much attention is devoted to Niger now that Hurricane Katrina has hit the southern states of the US? To my mind there is something troubling about ‘designer aid’ if you give then should you not be wanting it to go to the most needy?

I am not saying that I do not feel for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, I do indeed and I know that inevitably the worst hit will probably be the poorest. It gives me no comfort at all that the area affected is something of a Republican stronghold though I would like to see that part of the country hold the government they voted for in such numbers to account and demand that it works for the good of the people. What I am saying is that I am sceptical of a situation whereby with all the aid necessary across the world that somehow the richest nation should be very high up the priority list for external support. If a country can mount a military campaign thousands of miles away and supposedly rebuild Iraq then shouldn’t something on it’s own doorstep be a comparitive walk in the park?

Song Of The Day ~ Thunderclap Newman – Something In The Air

Original Comments:

protagonist made this comment,
This is DrMandrake –
I see where you’re coming from. You are right that overall, to claim that the U.S. was not generous to the victims of the tsunami is correct. Unfortunately, I don’t think you should do what do did with those kinds of proportions. For instance, the reason that Kuwait looks so generous is that there really are not that many people in Kuwait, and everyone in Kuwait is basically wealthy. In America, so many of the people are desperately poor. It is easy as a foreigner to look at the U.S. and see a greedy, wealthy, rich nation. We’re not. Like any other capitalism organization, the majority of that wealth is in the hands of a small minority of people. The average difference in earning between the top paid and least paid person in any given corporation in the U.S. is 17. (Meaning the top paid person earns 17 times the salary of the lowest person, on average)….in Japan, the number is 3. We are a country of a vast amount of extremely poor people.

I can not speak for the vast majority of Americans who sat by and did nothing on Dec 26th 2004. However, I can speak for people like me who wrote a check for $100 – not much, and a small portion of my salary, but something. I can not speak for those in the government who chose to go to a war and choose to continue it, wasting vast amounts of money (the same can be said of the UK of course). I don’t think that the international community should give the U.S. money. But for fuck’s sake, people are starving. Food, shelter, military and logistic support. We don’t need dollars or pounds, we need to get these people bottled water. This is how the international community could help. Send some haggis. God knows no one else is eating that shit.

-Redbaron responds – Mandrake old son you are absolutely spot on in terms of pointing out that the figures are skewed because of certain demographic considerations. However that does not alter the fact that the money to sort out the problem is in the US, those who control the money in your country have ample enough to sort out this problem and many more. The question is will there be enough lobbying to ensure that they are forced to do so? My principle point is that there should be no need for external aid when the resources are at the disposal of those in situ.-

comment added :: 1st September 2005, 01:05 GMT+01
Kristie made this comment,
I have, in this situation, used this analogy. While it’s kind and generous for other countries to offer aid, it’s kind of like a bum giving a fiver to the lady in fur and diamonds. We have the money to take care of this in our nation; whether we apply it there is up for debate. We should be embarrassed to take aid on the governmental level. I had to laugh when Venezuela offered. Perhaps we shouldn’t assassinate their president after all. It is not, as I’m sure you’ll agree, a lack of money in the U.S., but rather the allocation and distribution thereof, that remains the problem and always will. I gave money to tsunami relief. I don’t see myself sending money for the hurricane, frankly because I’m a Darwinian bastard at heart. If you keep building in the floodplain, in the hurrican zone, or what have you, why should I keep bailing you out because you’re a slow learner?
-Redbaron responds – I have to say I’m a fan of Chavez he’s like a 21st century Castro and I think Central and South America need more of him. Anyone on the CIA hitlist has to be doing something worth closer scrutiny. I did see the irony in Chavez’s response to the hurricane. I agree entirely the problem is the distribution, I would like to be romantically idealistic to think maybe this could be a chance to slightly redress the balance but I’m too old and cynical now to believe that. As for your socio-darwinism, harsh words indeed, I think even more extreme than me (and I don’t seem to get to say that often these days!) I have no problem with people living in areas such as this provided the regional and national government takes the responsibility for them doing so and provides the necessary services, be it flood defences etc. –

comment added :: 1st September 2005, 05:06 GMT+01
Kristie made this comment,
My hubby made a good point the other day…why is it, when it comes to AIDS, poverty, or some other tragedy, the religious brigade says it’s god’s will, and no tax money should go to help them, but when the American Deep South is repeatedly hit by hurricanes, well, that’s nature and science and dammit, we want our government to protect us?
-Redbaron responds – Yeah if anything’s God’s will…..! No, no, I really shouldn’t! –

comment added :: 1st September 2005, 16:10 GMT+01
rocky made this comment,
i don’t think that other countries should offer US money because this effort of stabalizing their own people should hurt US…even if its a small dent in their bulging wallet, perhaps it may make the government realize that they shouldn’t be wasting so much on iraq. yeah okay, fat chance.
but perhaps the media and the people might turn their attention on their own situation / poverty / crisis and instead of believing the president each time he claims to gallantly wish to “save” yet another country, they’d demand to be saved first.

i know that’s very idealistic, nothing will really change. but i still wouldn’t give a penny because although it is terribly tragic, honestly, of all the countries in the world, the US should be able to sort itself and its people out. after all, they’ve appointed themselves as the saviors of the people of iraq and afghanistan…i’m sure they can save their own ass. charity begins at home, after all.

comment added :: 3rd September 2005, 16:15 GMT+01
jamal made this comment,
Im disgusted the US govt toook so long to act, and even now their efforts are questionable. Im sure the fact New Orleans has a large black population has alot to do with it!

comment added :: 3rd September 2005, 16:24 GMT+01 ::