mr. zilla goes to town

Monday, September 05, 2005

Once more, without feeling

As you may have gathered from the previous few posts I’ve spent far too much of the weekend immersed in the awful news of the disaster in the US. As you may also have gathered that the main way I keep a lid on the despair at seeing such senseless loss of life is to pull on the angry pants and let the steam come out of my ears a little. I’m sure I’m not alone there. Perhaps I can try to be a little more dispassionate for a moment and say this.

This disaster is a ongoing complex humanitarian emergency that created in the order of half a million internally displaced persons across four states in the US, for at least a year.

Every disaster has a unique combination of environmental and social factors at play, and this might seem like an emergency that would test the resources of any nation on earth, but consider this. Bangladesh is a country of 144 million people, and in August 2004 monsoon flooding put 60% of the country under water. 20 million people needed immediate food aid. And while every life cut short is a tragedy, under these circumstances it might be fair to use the word “only”, and say only about 2000 people are reported to have died.

The United States, with a per capita GDP approximately 20 times higher than Bangladesh, seems likely to suffer a comparable or higher death toll, primarily due to the failure to adequately prepare and implement integrated community-level response plans across the gulf states, and effectively bring to bear the financial and logistical resources of the government in the immediate aftermath.

If two hundred billion dollars can be borrowed from world financial markets to finance a war ostensibly to make the American homeland and American interests safer, then adequate resources were never an issue, only political will and policy competence. The failures at all tiers of government in the United States – regardless of whomever is found most responsible in the end -- cannot be underestimated and should not be downplayed.

This might seem that I’m shrugging off a few thousand deaths in South Asia but gnashing my teeth over a similar number in the southern US. Well, unfortunately over the last 35 years Bangladesh has had its share of mass-casualty horror and despite some outstanding improvements since the typhoons of 1970 and 1991, may yet continue to do so. I make the comparison not to dismiss any tragedy. Only to hammer home the point that there with immeasurably more resources on hand in the US, and no shortage of very specific historical lessons to learn, the levels of expectation are rightly very high. And in one short week, the gap between expectation and reality has become a yawning chasm.


  • The thing that really disturbs me about this scenario is the level of violence involved.

    There have been so many disasters of which you've mentioned many.

    Whilst there are differences between the gulf disaster and the likes of the tsunami (ie the water's not gone away in this case etc etc), I still cannot fathom how the violence has gone so far. Those involved have, as far as the mass-media's described, very much turned on themselves with a sickening savagry.

    By Anonymous Br Kerry's Love Child, at 10:01 pm  

  • That's perspective! Thanks.

    By Blogger Malina, at 11:28 pm  

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