Monday, September 05, 2005

New Orleans has been evacuated, now the difficult part

Evacuating New Orleans seems to have been a Herculean task for the US authorities, one can only hope they deal better with next issue, the resettlement of refugees.

There are now half a million people scattered all over the Southern US. Some major decisions will need to be made. Where are the refugees going to be housed? where are they going to be schooled? how are they going to find a job? and who will cover the cost of living until that happens? The refugees cannot sit in shelters indefinitely, that can only lead to the kind of social unrest we saw at the superdome.

Maybe the US can learn something from Israel, which took in nearly a million Russian immigrants, over a sixth of it's population in 1990-2. In the space of a couple of years, Israel built huge temporary suburbs with mobile homes, and subsidised the Russians' living costs.

America isn't very good at helping it's poorer citizens help themselves, but its southern states have now adopted an underclass, and will need to act quickly if they are to avoid inheriting the social problems that have afflicted New Orleans.

The Bush haters are having a field day

With every disaster, there will always be a few opportunists trying to cash in on the situation. There have already been reports of petrol retailers profiteering from fuel shortages, now the media opportunists have waded in. Driving to Cambridge yesterday, I listened to one "expert" commenting on the movie "the day after tomorrow", saying that "the day after tomorrow happened last week" and that Bush was paying the price for ignoring the Kyoto agreement. In fact, it's now clear that this has very little to do with Kyoto. The intensity of katrina and the frequency of hurricanes differs little from previous hurricane cycles, and New Orleans flooded not because of the rising sea levels but because of its poor flood defences. Anti-war activists such as Cindy Sheehan have also joined the chorus of condemnation, claiming that many of the local national guard troops were in Iraq. This again is a poor argument as a country as technologically advanced as the US should be able to mobilise troops from other states within hours regardless of where local troops are.

Environmentalists and anti-war activists may have an axe to grind with Bush, but they should at least get their facts right and not exploit the situation to suit their own agenda. As Commander in Chief, Bush bears much of the responsibility for the pathetic response to this disaster, but he didn't cause it.