Some sheer old-fashioned incompetence

As I followed the coverage of Katrina in local newspapers here in Slovenia and in NY TImes, WSJ, the dominant feeling is one of bemusement and no small amount of disbelief. Usually, in disasters like this (having been born and brought up in India, I have seen plenty of them), the normal feelings are one of horror and there-but-for-the-grace-of-god-go-I sensation as you look at those poor bastards suffer. But in Katrina, what I feel is disbelief:

  • Disbelief that the most advanced country on Earth cannot respond effectively to a scenario that is not only studied, but also expected.
  • Disbelief that it is not readily apparent whether President Bush is bullet-proof to national/public outrage and criticism or if the nedia and American public have become so numbed and becalmed by the disaster that they lost their collective voices and no one is hearing them.

I am sure many of you feel that more than the storm, the aftermath is turning out to be a bigger disaster. However, it is only as I read Paul Krugman’s column in NY Times yesterday that I realized the biggest culrpit in this disaster is that old enemy of progress and peace: incompetence. I am staggered by the sheer incompetence and apathy shown by American government in mounting a fast, effective and overwhelming response to this natural disaster.

As if a disaster of this size is not enough to unite people, our local newspapers here are full of analysis that Katrina instead of blowing away the differences has merely stripped away the thin veneer of civilization in New Orleans and how racial discrimination has left blacks behind to suffer the most. I find this hard to believe; I don’t think that the countless pictures of predominantly black people struggling to survive are prime evidence of racial discrimination; instead, I think the prime cause is that they are poor and probably could not protect themselves from disaster. If the local or federal governments failed in discharging their duties, it is not because they have an evil masterplan against blacks but more becuase they do not have a plan.

I have said all I would like to about this disaster and its even more staggering aftermath. More literate and passionate people have written more eloquently than I could have about this. Hopefully, all of this collective outpouring of anguish and outrage can go some small way towards mitigating the situation of people suffering in New Orleans. But the cynic in me feels that 4–6 weeks from now, all of us would have moved on, media would have something else to focus on and life would go back to normal. But the people who went through this storm, found their humanity, but lost it all in the aftermath as a government and infrastructure that is expected to roar only uttered a pitiful whimper; when will they be able to move on?


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