KATRINA EXPOSES A “SOMALIA” WITHIN THE US Faisal Hashmi (Sept. 13, 2005)


Following the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina a new image of the United States has emerged. It is the image of an affluent country with a Somalia nestled snugly inside it, writes Faisal Hashmi

Before the Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana the world did not know that such pockets of poverty and hopelessness as Louisiana existed in a flashy, post-modern America. The world was also not aware of the Bush Administration’s monumental capacity for callousness.

Five days after the hurricane hit Louisiana, IPS correspondent Jim Lobe reported the survivors had not got food or water, and the federal government had yet to intervene meaningfully. For the first time the world also realised that the massive civil rights movement (led by Martin Luther King) of the 60s had not really improved the quality of life of American Blacks beyond a point.

Behind the Bush Administration’s neglect of the victims lies a deep aversion of the poor. There is no other explanation. The former US President Mr Bill Clinton has rightly observed, “Our government failed those people in the beginning. There is no dispute about it”.

We know that in less equitably organised societies ethnic, religious and racial minorities are treated by the state as the “other”. But America, being the self-proclaimed bastion of democracy, could have done it better.

Till the time of writing this there is no clear idea of how many people perished. A conservative official estimate made on September 6 put the toll at 10,000 while an agency report said it could run into hundreds of thousands. The latter figures could be true, because bodies lying buried in debris of collapsed houses are yet to be dug out. There is no estimate of people gone missing.

At the time of writing this 28,000 body bags were flown into New Orleans. President George W. Bush was to ask Congress for $51 billion for relief operations. He also roped in his father, former US President George H.W. Bush, and his predecessor Bill Clinton to mobilise support for the relief and rehabilitation effort.

The disaster, billed as the greatest domestic American crisis since 2001, is blamed by environment think tank the Worldwatch Institute on the destruction of the ecology of the Mississippi river, besides other factors. .g

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