Monday, April 30

International Katrina aid goes unclaimed

The Washington Post ran a troubling story Sunday about the extent of aid from international allies that went unused, spoiled, or uncollected after the hurricanes that hit the gulf in 2005.

Allies offered $854 million in cash and in oil that was to be sold for cash. But only $40 million has been used so far for disaster victims or reconstruction, according to U.S. officials and contractors. Most of the aid went uncollected, including $400 million worth of oil. Some offers were withdrawn or redirected to private groups such as the Red Cross. The rest has been delayed by red tape and bureaucratic limits on how it can be spent.

In addition, valuable supplies and services -- such as cellphone systems, medicine and cruise ships -- were delayed or declined because the government could not handle them. In some cases, supplies were wasted.
And if that doesn't seem shameful on its surface - the article also shares internal communications between government workers who struggled to explain why things failed.
In one exchange, State Department officials anguished over whether to tell Italy that its shipments of medicine, gauze and other medical supplies spoiled in the elements for weeks after Katrina's landfall on Aug. 29, 2005, and were destroyed. "Tell them we blew it," one disgusted official wrote. But she hedged: "The flip side is just to dispose of it and not come clean. I could be persuaded."

In another instance, the Department of Homeland Security accepted an offer from Greece on Sept. 3, 2005, to dispatch two cruise ships that could be used free as hotels or hospitals for displaced residents. The deal was rescinded Sept. 15 after it became clear a ship would not arrive before Oct. 10. The U.S. eventually paid $249 million to use Carnival Cruise Lines vessels.
I fear that the future responsibilities of managing these offers of in-kind contributions after the next major national incident have still not been adequately incorporated into disaster response plans.

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