Monday, September 05, 2005

A look to India

Following on Matt Wells' suggestion that third world dictators were better at disaster recovery operations than the US and Paul Reynolds' more specific suggestion that Fidel Castro was a good example of such, yet another BBC reporter, Daniel Lak, has decided to weigh in with a suggestion that US relief efforts compare unfavorably with yet another place, namely India. Lak says that:

…I hesitate to say this at such an early stage of the relief effort here, but the authorities in India at least, and some other countries in the region, have become quite good at dealing with severe flooding, or earthquakes, catastrophic events on a tsunami scale, if you will.

Certainly quicker with both material and political comfort to survivors.

It did not take long for huge field hospitals and vast camps of toilets and clean water tanks to be set up in southern India for example, after the tsunami hit there last year, whereas here in Mississippi, the authorities are still begging people to boil their water and watch where they go to the toilet, lest they give or receive some
water-borne disease.

Lak doesn’t tell us exactly how long “not long” means, but in any event he should probably have hesitated a bit more, and not just because of the foolishness in taking a single disaster relief operation (out of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, that have been undertaken by the US, both domestically and internationally) as defining the capabilities of the US. He should have at least hesitated long enough to research the BBC’s very own website to see how the Indian relief operation was being reported at the time.

The tsunami hit on December 26. Three days later, BBC reporter Geeta Pandey was in the Andaman Islands, the worst hit portion of India, and was reporting that “rescue teams are yet to reach some of the islands” and that at the relief camps that had been set up (by NGOs, notably) “water supply has been a problem.”

The next day, four days after the tsunami had hit, Pandey reported that victims who had made their way to relief stations “…say the government claim that food and water is being airdropped to those still stranded is false.”

Six days after the disaster hit, on January 1, 2005, Jonathon Charles was reporting that:
The Indian military now appears to be taking over the prime responsibility for the relief effort, removing overall control from the civilian authorities in what seems to be a sign that the operation to bring help to the stricken Andaman and Nicobar islands is struggling.

The regional military commander-in-chief, General BS Thakur, acknowledged that his troops were facing huge logistical problems in getting aid to the people who desperately needed it.
The BBC later did a whole treatment on the political recriminations going on in India surrounding the handling of the relief operations during the tsunami crisis. One Indian commentary cited by the BBC said:
While the chief minister was surrounded by fish workers accusing the government of failing to organise relief activities the tsunami-hit simply asked Achuthanandan to stop making speeches and go away.
The BBC noted that:
A commentator in the daily Eenadu agrees that the plight of the survivors did not seem to be uppermost in the minds of Indian politicians.
It also noted that:

Another writer in the same paper believes that the authorities' errors began even before the tsunami hit.

"It is the fault of the official machinery for its failure to alert people about the impending disaster of the tsunami, in spite of having a full 150 minutes from when the earthquake occurred."

"The authorities cannot escape responsibility by saying that it was a holiday," the article, entitled "Human error causes great havoc", adds.

And still more:

A commentary in Malayala Manorama puts the blame on the relief agencies for the slow arrival of aid.

"While the local administration and state government undoubtedly mounted a massive effort after an initial slow start," it says, "there was little coordination among the agencies involved in relief operations."

Hmmm. The “slow arrival of aid”? Accusations of being on “holiday”? Failure to take pre-disaster measures? An uncaring political class? Does all this sound, perhaps, just a little bit familiar?

Lak concludes by suggesting that the US look to India for the “best way to deal with disaster” (although he disdainfully adds that he doubts anyone will take his advice.) There are indeed lessons to be learned by looking at India, although it is not clear to me that it has much to do with dealing with disaster. The lesson is twofold: First, that political opportunism, finger-pointing, and blame seeking for the unavoidable difficulties in dealing with disaster are not unique to the US; and second, that the BBC’s “From Our Own Correspondent” series is a gigantic waste of journalistic airtime…and hence taxpayer monies.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Gigantic' waste of journalistic airtime, eh.

The old but effective exaggeration for effect idea.

If you're going to put staff reporters in far flung regions of the world you might as well ask them to provide 800 or so words to provide background colour to a situation. Not all of it is 'contentious' , I find it quite useful to get a sidewise look at a place, people or situation and I can't think of a market driven broadcast business that would provide such an outlet, but there again I kind of like the BBC, warts & all.....

9:39 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home