Thursday, September 01, 2005

Our Flood & Their Flood

I have been watching images on various news channels showing the devastation left behind by Katrina.

I have been following Maitri’s blog on the more personalised aspect of surviving Katrina.

And one thing struck me - however developed you may be, how ever well trained your response teams may be, when it comes to dealing with Nature’s fury - all that can be achieved is minimisation of damage. not much else.

With something like Katrina - the last one week has been “Katrina is coming” news all over the place. Evacuation has been in full swing. Yet the loss of lives has been phenomenal. Property destruction was anyway a given, nothing that could be done as far as houses or vehicles are concerned.

One of the things i do like about the MSM in the US, is their ability to highlight the positive, instead of finding just the negatives to shout about. In that sense the media in Mumbai, when it came to covering our own terrible Tuesday, was caught up in sensationalising rather than providing information. This an article from the NYT highlights rescue operations:

“If we come across a body floating?” Sgt. Chris Fisher of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office asked.
“Let it go,” Maj. Bobby Woods replied, as Sergeant Fisher and other rescue workers prepared for the day’s mission. “Let’s first go for life.”

There were policemen here too, ill equipped - who did much the same. But, there was no highlighting of the positive, until much, much later. Only the cacophony of ‘you should have’, ' you f***ed up. Even today there is so much of finger pointing and so much of negativism that it is quite difficult to get past the negativism and move on to do something constructive.

Maybe, it is time that the press in India realised that they don’t just have a responsbility to the bottom line of their newspapers. They also have have societal responsibility. And maybe it is time that they grew up to the maturity challenge.

Here is a much more developed nation, with a finely trained disaster management system, where evacuation of people had began earlier. And yet, on the day, there wasn’t a thing that could be done to prevent mayhem. And reports talk about weeks before people can go back to normalcy. I am not saying that we need to let up on Government inefficiencies, but there is a time when we need understand that there is only so much that can be done in a given situation. And all these recriminations of ‘you should have’ needs to give way to a slight degree of balance. We seem to like to score points. They leave that till later - after the calamity has passed and life goes back to normal.

Like in the case of Mumbai, part of the problem seems to be greed - and the ability of business and Government to stand by and rape the environment without any thought of the consequence.This a readers’ opinion from the NYT:

Upstream levee-building has also had the effect of turning a sluggish river into a fire hose, helping to destroy marshes and barrier islands that once provided some protection. The steady destruction of coastal wetlands by residential development and years of oil and gas drilling hasn’t helped much either. The combination of subsiding land and rising seas has put the Mississippi Delta about three feet lower than it was 100 years ago.

I guess that the Free Market is not as free as we think. Sometimes the price tag is so high that generations to come end up paying for it.

The one thing that we didn’t get to see on terrible tuesday here, which unfortunately seems to be happening in New Orleans is looting.
This is not the first time that one has seen pictures like this come out of the west. We saw similar pictures out of Gujrat during the riots. And, at a very primal level it is scary. The break down of civil society as we know it.

I hope that people there are as safe as they can be. That they get back and resume a normal life, as soon as possible. That they are reunited with their families and loved ones soon. All that we have in a time like this is hope.

cross posted on a POV


Blogger __nitinsen said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Thu Sep 01, 03:52:00 AM GMT-7  
Blogger __nitinsen said...

Yup, it was a natural disaster, but like the Mumbai floods, the scale of damage in New Orleans probably could have been prevented, I think.

The southern east-coast of USA is prone to hurricanes and tropical storms, similar incidents happen quite regularly, albeit usually on a much smaller scale. When you know that such things are likely to happen, and you are the richest country in the world, why on earth do you allow your citizens to live in such flimsy wooden houses? In Japan, for example, they know that their cities are prone to major earthquakes, so have started to prepare for it; their buildings are designed to withstand shocks and are designed for flexibility so during an earthquake their high-rises sway and bend rather than simply collapse under pressure! It is impossible to make a city 100% earthquake proof, but at least if it stays together long enough, people can evacuate to safety. The 1995 earthquake in Kobe Japan killed 6000+ people and injured many more, but there was no time to fully prepare for such an incident. A similar quake in Gujarat and Egypt killed tens of thousands. In USA, however, they knew that this disaster was approaching and in fact were expecting it to be much stronger than it actually was, and still it seems that thousands of have died!

I agree that the media needs to play a more positive role and look for solutions rather than simply pointing out the obvious and toying with our emotions. The problems in Mumbai can't be solved by pointing fingers at individuals, it’s a systemic problem; people generally don't like to look at themselves and ask what thay are doing to improve the city. There is this general sense that 'nothing can be done'....which is off-course nonsense.

Thu Sep 01, 04:48:00 AM GMT-7  
Blogger __nitinsen said...

Oh boy....the more I'm watching these news reports, the more depressing & disturbing the situation in USA seems.

When it comes to a war in Iraq and killing people, the Bush administration is quick to sign 'blank cheques', but when it comes to saving its own people they are not even fulfilling the most basic requirements. Mr Bush is probably flying around in his helicopter, looking at the devestation and thinking, "darn...we're goina have ta do sumthin about those oil rigs".

Well, I think Indians should stop looking towards countries such as USA for solutions to our problems...they clearly have no clue themselves as to how to deal with crises. We have to set our own standards for what is acceptable behaviour for a civilised society.

Fri Sep 02, 07:00:00 AM GMT-7  
Anonymous David Raphael Israel said...

Nitisen wrote:
[quote]When you know that such things are likely to happen, and you are the richest country in the world, why on earth do you allow your citizens to live in such flimsy wooden houses?[/quote]

The pity is that there's very little relationship between overall wealth and the conditions of the poor. A case in point is the fact that one of the biggest items on the Congressional agenda (as soon as the US Congress reconvenes this week) is legislation to make permanent Pres. Bush's beloved abolition of the estate tax -- a tax which by and large falls only to the top 2% (or something) of wealthiest Americans -- and will have the effect of making even larger the already very large national debt (the USA is in fact deeply in debt under the current administration, though under Bill Clinton the national budget had finally been balanced and an annual surplus achieved). Just some contextualizing fragment side-nodes -- from a denizen of Washington, DC.

Also to note: In the New York Times and many other mainstream media outlets in the US -- certainly on CNN (Cable News Network) and even, surprisingly, on the usually strongly Bush government-supporting Fox cable news channel -- there has (from our perspective here) in fact been a tremendous lot of criticism of the national government's handling of the crisis. Perhaps that news/opinion doesn't reach you so directly in whatever form you're getting US news. I recommend (for example) the columnist Paul Krugman, of the New York Times; his column today is entitled "Killed by Contempt":
[you have to register to read the NYTimes, but registration is free]. Other good sources of American news include
and -- the latter requires a little rigamarole to enter (if you're not a paid subscrier) but is tolerable.
If you're curious to see some yet-more lefewing views of American current politics stuff, also worth mention is the Huffington Post -- which hosts a bevy of blogs:


Mon Sep 05, 07:20:00 AM GMT-7  
Anonymous RedSari said...

Your analysis is appreciated as genuine and constructive.

Many Indians here seem to be trying to compare human reactions of post-Katrina with the floods of July 26th -- in the "we are better than them" type of way and it really gets me sad and angry.

Hunger and death affect humans all the same.

Mon Sep 05, 11:14:00 AM GMT-7  
Blogger david raphael israel said...

Further to note, fyi this is the sort of biting political critique that is in fact emerging in the US:
Chronology (Washington Monthly)

Of course, politics (and political confusion, etc.) is only one level of ongoing life. It is among the conditions that provide for collective experience, just as is the natural environment among those conditions. That positive human forces and transformations occur in the midst (and in the wake) of "catastrophes," seems a human truism that news reports are not well designed to focus on (or find a context for). Notwithstanding my above post(s), I must agree with the original idea noted: that some American news sources did manage (on occasion) to foreground positive efforts and generous gestures & actions & sentiments. How that compares with things said or not said in Maharashtra's recent flood experience, I've no idea (being unversed in media coverage there, let alone its style & nuances & history, etc.) I've a hunch there may be many similarities on both sides of the globe.


Mon Sep 05, 12:48:00 PM GMT-7  
Blogger __nitinsen said...

[quote] Many Indians here seem to be trying to compare human reactions of post-Katrina with the floods of July 26th -- in the "we are better than them" type of way and it really gets me sad and angry. [/quote]

Well I'm not one of them. Whatever I wrote, was out of anger and sheer disbelief. I am Indian yes, but I'm actually British, and I live in the UK. So when I see the governance in, 'developed' countries, break down in this way, it's quite scary. It was heart breaking, and depressing to see.

I think it is fine to compare the Mumbai floods to the New Orleans situation. In both incidents, it was the poorest and most vulnerable in society that was the worst hit. Yet, it’s not exclusively the poorest that suffered. Disease, violence & pain don’t carry passports; a complete breakdown of society is as much a problem for the rich as for the poor.

In this context, how do we define development? It’s this kind of skewed development that promotes man-made disasters.

I realise that I am generally repeating whatever has already been written in the media, but there is actually no harm in repeating it. This is a blog afterall, and helps me gather my thoughts.

Tue Sep 06, 02:52:00 AM GMT-7  
Blogger __nitinsen said...

[Quote] Further to note, fyi this is the sort of biting political critique that is in fact emerging in the US:
Chronology (Washington Monthly) [/Quote]

Thanks for the links to the various articles from the American media. America is a democracy after all; its so much better than the 'narcissism', that we often see comming from the US press. Being British, I am used to the media being can be a little too much at times and sometimes we long for the more rosy picture that American media often portrays.

The Indian media is usually pretty feisty and often hyper-critical, like the British press. However, due to the high level of corruption, at all levels of society, I find difficulty in filtering out the wheat from the chaf. I notice that patriotism often clouds the judgments of many a journalist in India.

Corruption happens all over the world actually, the world is yet to find a long term cure for greed; but, the difference is that in places like Britain and USA, it happens generally at the highest level, while in India, it is at the highest and lowest levels, and is clearly visable on the streets.

Tue Sep 06, 03:37:00 AM GMT-7  
Blogger Max Babi said...

Hi David,

Interesting blog here.
I read most of the views
and I agree with you, though
it would take time to plod
thru' other references.
We Indians are foxed by the
poor and rich divide in the
US. You need to tell us more
about that, first David.
Max Babi

Tue Sep 06, 10:21:00 AM GMT-7  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dont see why you're complaining about the way mumbai reacted. First and foremost, the people were extremely helpful, look at the crime rates during that time. Now, compare it to New Orleans. I know for a fact that the poor people provided water and food for those stuck in their cars etc.

And who said the people of New Orleans aren't complaning? Watch the news, they are!

However, I agree that the people shouldn't be pointing fingers, and maybe the media should have done a better job, but honestly, if they had not highlighted the negative, would we be able to understand the damage?

But all in all you seem to think that India is below you, and so are the people. Whatever they do is not good enough. I'm not saying that Indians are better, however you cannot say that they did not do their best. You talk about pointing fingers, and what are you doing now?

Tue Sep 06, 10:28:00 AM GMT-7  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Instead of comparing the disaster in Mumbai with the one in New Orleans and feeling good, in the long term we would be better off thing only about our problems.They (the US) are rich , they will take care of themselves, we should take care or ourselves.

Thu Sep 08, 08:06:00 PM GMT-7  
Blogger Slice Of Life said...

disaster management in U.S is in dismal state

Wed Oct 12, 12:56:00 AM GMT-7  
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