Katrina Shakes Global Faith in U.S.

By Pueng Vongs, Pacific News Service

Pueng Vongs is an editor of New California Media, an association of over 700 print, broadcast and online ethnic media organizations founded in 1996 by Pacific News Service and members of ethnic media. Donal Brown, Aruna Lee, Sandip Roy, Eugenia Chien, Elena Shore, Jalal Ghazi and Rene Ciria-Cruz contributed to this report.
Posted on September 15, 2005, Printed on September 16, 2005

Readers and commentators from abroad are watching images of chaos and despair in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and are wondering how a country so mighty could have fallen so far.

"Nature Lays a Superpower Low" reads the headline of an editorial in The Hindu, a daily in Chennai. Arvind Sivaramakrishnan, commenting in another article in the paper, writes that Katrina exposed "squalor that would shame a Third World country, as well as racial and political divisions reminiscent of apartheid South Africa."

"It is astonishing that these cruel indignities are happening today in one of the richest countries in human history," writes Dr. Firoz Osman in South Africa's Business Day.

Mario Diamant, a commentator in La Nacion, a Buenos Aires-based daily, posits: "Can such a powerful nation be so vulnerable? Can a capricious act of nature erase 200 years of progress and technology?"

An editorial in the Philippine Daily Inquirer takes a similar tack. The forces of the hurricane brought out the "lack of preparedness of a superpower that could invade and overrun another country thousands of miles away in a matter of days."

In Kathmandu, Nepal, the daily Himalayan Times writes in an editorial, "America the 'High and Mighty' had become America, the 'Humbled and Muddy.'"

A cartoon in the London-based Arabic-language Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper sums up the disbelief. It shows President Bush with the upper body of Superman -- and two skinny legs exposed by the hurricane.

Many foreign media focus on the Bush administration's failure to respond adequately in the aftermath of the storm. An editorial in the Taiwan-based, Chinese-language World Journal by Chen Sheyao blames the Bush administration for treating its own citizens like terrorists.

"Images of tanks roaming the streets of New Orleans, soldiers attempting to inact martial law: This is more like Iraq than America." The war in Iraq, Chen writes, "has taken a surprising emotional toll on Americans: everyone is now a possible terrorist. Soldiers who were trained to point their guns at Iraqi civilians are now pointing their guns at innocent evacuees in New Orleans."

South Korea's Pusan Daily also makes reference to the ongoing dilemma in Iraq and Afghanistan, finding it ironic that while the United States has spent billions of dollars and exhausted its military resources in dealing with the affairs of other countries, America cannot prevent the levees in New Orleans from being breeched.

La Nacion's Mario Diamant finds it suspect that Halliburton, the transnational corporation that vice-president Dick Cheney once headed and whose performance in Iraq is intensely criticized, "received a $12 million contract to rebuild ports. And Bechtel, the group that lists in its rosters the current president's father, received a million dollar contract to build temporary housing."

Other foreign media are more forgiving of the evacuation mishaps. Rajeev Srinivasan in Rediff.com, an online news site based in Mumbai, doubts that India has the capability for evacuating and caring for half a million people should a similar hurricane hit the country. He also wonders what India would do if ocean levels rose and millions of Bangladeshis "invaded" India.

Observers from around the world were united in their outpouring of empathy for victims of the hurricane. Many countries, rich and poor, sent aid. Kuwait gave a half a billion dollars. Uganda sent $200,000. Bangladesh sent tea, Namibia sent canned fish and Thailand sent rice. Others expressed their admiration for American citizens who helped each other.

"The response from American leaders seemed to lack political intelligence and sympathy, but the response of ordinary citizens was quick and compassionate," writes Liu Tian in the World Journal.

But some say the disaster taught bitter lessons. Vukoni Lupa-Lasaga writes in the Monitor, a daily newspaper in Kampala, Uganda, that Africans and those of African descent around the world should not put much faith in the United States.

"Whether you are in peril in Darfur, Sudan, Ruhengeri, Rwanda or New Orleans, saving your black behind isn't a priority for the American government, founded on a doctrine of white supremacy," he writes. He concludes that the Gulf coast disaster could well deplete funds committed to the global fight against poverty and disease.

London-based writer Joseph Hanlon, writing for the Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique (Mozambique) in Maputo, says that in responding to flood crises, the United States has much to learn from Mozambique, one of the poorest countries in the world. Hanlon says 550,000 people were displaced by flooding in 2000 in southern Mozambique. Only 700 people died.

The country had undertaken extensive preparation by training personnel and stockpiling goods including food, medicines, tents and plastic sheeting. When the disaster hit, local leaders evacuated people to tent cities on high ground, in intact neighborhoods. Forty thousand others were saved with small boats.

The country also used NGOs such as Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders, the South African air force and UNICEF. Helicopters were flying in one day and rescued some 14,000 people.

The United States, Hanlon writes, should have done the same.


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