What’s the use of all this wonderful technology when we lack the leadership to put it to good use?

The meteorologists were able to predict where, when and how much of a thud Katrina would make when landing. We have helicopters, amphibious vehicles, battleships, buses, planes with in-seat DVD players. Gatorade, Cliff bars and Top Ramen have been developed as stable and densely nutritious (in the short term) foods with long shelf-lives.

Yet several days after, there are hundreds upon thousands of people in the South who have not only lost everything, but they are stuck in the quagmire, still with no food, no water, no medical aid, no shelter, no relief forthcoming.

My mum was watching a TV talk-show in Bangkok, where the host Samak Sundaravej (a former elected official) suggested Thailand ship 5 milion packets of Mama (the Thai instant noodle brand of choice) to the American Gulf States. “You see those helicopters flying around, they could air drop the noodle packets to the poor folks on their rooftops. Especially the styrofoam cup ones, they would float!”

I can’t believe there weren’t better efforts made to evacuate the poor who couldn’t afford to leave on their own, before the storm. I can’t believe there wasn’t more mobilization of food, water, medical supplies, transportation, etc BEFORE the storm, knowing that it was likely to be needed right away.

Penny-wise, pound-foolish. Not investing in the evacuating more people before the storm, or not organising for relief efforts in advance is costing more lives, more money and sustaining much more loss than could have been staunched in the reactionary scrambling and confusion.

Granted, it’s easy to say this in hindsight. It might have been a gamble. The authorities could have made all these preparations, and evacuated folks from New Orleans to the Astrodome last week; and if somehow, Katrina had ended up dissipating into a whimper with little damage, everyone would probably say, “All that work was done for nothing? Why did we bother?”

This is a more depressing deja vu of the Boxing Day tsunami, seeing the footage of the widespread destruction and bedraggled refugees . . . in the world’s wealthiest nation. Bewilderment doesn’t begin to describe it. Maybe “nauseating irony” does.

In the days leading up to Katrina, CNN switched to all-Katrina, all-the-time. “The Hurricane News Center,” they billed themselves. There was a sick sense of muffled glee that the newscasters had under their concerned serious demeanor, in anticipation of the Big Event. This was ratings gold. How often do you have an enormously tragic event that you can predict and program for in advance? (as opposed to huge joyous events like Charles and Diana’s wedding)

The media probably did a better job of preparing for reporting on Katrina, than the authorities did for post-storm relief and rescue.


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