Tuesday, May 13, 2008

When Governments Impede Disaster Recovery

It's been a rough 10 days for millions of people. First Cyclone Nargis flooded Myanmar and the death toll is estimated to top 100,000, with more than a million people homeless. Then yesterday a major earthquake rocked China, and the current estimate of 10,000 dead is expected to climb. The people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast send their thoughts and prayers to those suffering from these two most recent natural disasters.

Government officials in the U.S. have been outspoken about how the inept governments of Myanmar and China will cause more death and suffering by delaying aid and recovery. I first heard this theme a week ago when I saw Laura Bush criticize Myanmar officials. But to me, the Bush administration has no street cred when it comes to handling disasters after their response to Katrina. I think of all the foreign aid offered to the Gulf Coast that our government ignored. And Laura Bush directly condemns Myanmar's government for not understanding the magnitude of the disaster, and I remember her husband saying "I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees" after being repeatedly warned about this very thing.

I have no doubt that thousands will die because of the governments of China and Myanmar. But I would add that thousands died here because of our government's ineptitude, and people are still passing away because of the Federal Flood. For many it has been a slow and depressing death. And there is untold suffering. A recent survey conducted nearly 3 years after Katrina finds that two-thirds of the residents of Louisiana impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita feel they aren't close to recovery yet. I would put my family and I in that position.

As my friend Editor B pointed out two years ago, recovery after a major disaster is a marathon, not a sprint. But sadly governments can at times make the marathon even more difficult.

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