A Tale of Two Terrors

Many people are only now understanding the extrordinary differences between relief efforts and information services mobilised as a result of the tsunamis of 26 December last year, when compared with that Hurricane Katrina in the gulf country of the US last week.

In Australia, within 24 hours of the crisis, the Australian RED Cross and NGOs had committed A$8 million. Over the course of a little over a week, over a billion dollars worth of aid was raised, military personnel were mobilised and survivors of the tsunami were being assisted.

In the US, the timeline for tsunami relief was almost as impressive, with air bases set up within 48 hours for disaster relief to be flown in, and logistics for prioritisation and personnel carrying out the aid to the survivors were all mobilised within 3 days.

This all occurred on a number of different regional coast lines throughout Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and other areas hit by the devastation. The final death toll for the tsunamis is estimated to be somewhere around 190,000. The total land area affected by the tsunamis is estimated to be in excess of 20,000 square kilometres.

But in coastal New Orleans – an area with a total land area of less than 1000 square kilometres – there are as many as 40,000 people missing and possibly 20,000 dead or dying. Relief from the US government (let alone international relief) in the way of military personnel and logistics prioritisation took more than 4 days to arrive. While US$10.5 billion was approved in the Senate within 24 hours of the hurricane hitting the coastline, New Orleans Mayor, Ray Nagin had seen little evidence of that financial commitment for the first few days after the area was flooded. There are still insufficient services being offered to the people of New Orleans. While journalists could enter the area both before and after the hurricane hit, no military personnel or relief logistics from outside the southern states directly affected by the hurricane were to be seen in the region for the first three days. Most of the international regions that have offered aid relief have either been declined, or their offers are still under consideration, whilst hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives are being lost every day.

It really is a bizarre comparison. The Indian Ocean eathquake and subsequent tsunami hit some of the poorest communities in the world, and the entire world banded together to assist. Hurricane Katrina hit some of the poorest regions of world’s richest nation, and the US Government is still considering whether to accept aid and open its doors to international relief efforts, more than six days after the disaster.

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