Katrina: Hits Home in Uganda
As we remember Katrina, the United States is once again being tested. The island city Galveston, Texas, not too far from Houston, Texas, and other cities in the Gulf of Mexico, including New Orleans, are bracing themselves for another major storm this weekend. Rita, as she has been called, has climbed up to a category-5 storm in the warm waters of the gulf and a state of emergency has been declared in Texas and Louisiana. Over 1.3 million people in the region have been ordered to evacuate by authorities. Galveston’s mayor has called in thousands of volunteers to help evacuate her population of 58,000. The worst scenario has the island completely under water and it is here in 1900 that Galveston was struck by United States' deadliest hurricane in 1900.
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First published: September 22, 2005
New Orleans was a swinging, sexy and sassy town. Coined popularly in the United States as “The Big Easy,” its relatively easy-going, subtle, and relaxing residents and culture, welcomed all who whisked through the early French-colonized southern American city.
However, it was nothing but easy for me, an American citizen in Kampala, to view the new American tragedy since Sept. 11 that has displaced about 1 million Americans from their homes in not only New Orleans, Louisiana, but in Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi, too. Katrina’s aftermath killed thousands, and caused an outpour of ravage, raw and rage from local gangs that united to loot New Orleans and shoot police on international television.
And, reading about the dilemma and seeing it on television has convinced me that it has completely eliminated a city that has U.S. government officials scratching their heads, sobbing and becoming speechless when explaining their pitiful attempt to respond to Katrina, and finally admitting to their undecided plans to rebuild.
This Katrina massacre has New Orleans residents wondering why their government neglected them in their desperate time of need, and the world responding with mixed reviews about the so-called, invincible power of America’s strength to withstand any situation, which has signaled cheers and jeers from the global community.
We’re All in the Same Boat
Recently some Ugandans I have spoken to casually about the disaster, felt truly sorry and pity for the residents who died and lost their homes to the natural disaster, but did not understand how the U.S. government allowed such a calamity. Then, other Ugandan citizens, residents, expatriates and journalists I have chatted with, suggested that this tragedy has definitely proven that America is not the superpower it assumes to be, and are convinced that Hurricane Katrina is a divine justification to put the United States in check by letting the government and its inhabitants know that its like every other country, if something cuts through America, it will also bleed just like the rest of the countries on earth.
And so much bloodshed, violence, death, bewilderment and total chaos has definitely left the world in such awe that it leaves one at a loss for words to even describe the horrific tragedy in New Orleans.
So far, about some 55 nations have helped and given to the American tragedy. Even Sri Lanka donated items to the United States while the country is itself still in the midst of rebuilding after the tsunami.
Kenya even donated thousands of dollars to the disaster, too, meanwhile petitioning the United Nations for aid to feed its poor.
Why is the poor sacrificing to give to the rich? It’s because the United States was there for them in their time of despair. Many foreign newspapers, including in East Africa, have published stories on Hurricane Katrina and ran pictures depicting the poor, neglected Louisianans, mostly black Americans, weeping, looking distressed, and carrying children through murky floodwaters in search of food.
Consequently in Uganda, the tragic event also has revealed how much the world really comprehends the overwhelming number of people living in poverty in America, which just-so-happened to put vulnerable New Orleans on the global map recently.
With a large majority of Ugandans living in poverty, I guess it is really hard to phantom, the United States, the country where most foreigners believe it is a land bubbling over with money-making opportunities for everyone there, can have inhabitants who are badly off, if not worse, than many Ugandan citizens.
On the contrary, many people in New Orleans could not afford to buy a Greyhound bus ticket, let alone a plane ticket, to leave their home.
Their only option was to be stranded, and hope for the best.
Even though I am proud to be an American, I am also a Ugandan resident. So, I believe it’s fair for me to say many parts of Uganda and New Orleans have a lot in common.
According to media reports, of the 485,000 residents in New Orleans, 67 percent are black American, and many of them are poor. And the Big Easy is not only known in America for its magical and rich cultural heritage, but for a corrupt police, a neglected infrastructure, rising poverty, an embarrassing educational system, and an increasing murder rate.
And knowing all of this, some Ugandan journalists still cannot imagine the strong constraints of the city’s poverty level that could subject the people of New Orleans to opt to wait for deliverance than to take their lives into their own hands.
For instance, Kalungi Kabuye, a journalist at Uganda's New Vision newspaper in Kampala said he also agreed that the hurricane’s aftermath was devastating, tragic, and it was totally the government’s responsibility to prepare the city for such devastation. But, he said the residents should have been properly prepared for such a natural disaster, just in case help was not available.
“Well, I know the people didn’t have credit cards to stay in a hotel,” Kabuye said. “They should have done more for themselves. The government’s response shouldn’t have been slow, but they should have taken care of themselves. They should have gotten out.”
On the other hand, photojournalist David Enyaku, also from New Vision, said that most human beings would have reacted in the same way in a time of distress.
“The reaction of the government shows that racism still exists,” Enyaku said, “And that human beings are the same, whether in a poor or rich country. Seeing people in America looting and killing like in Africa shows how we are very much alike.”
How Could This Happen to the U.S.?
The city that was mainly known to America for Mardi Gras and down-home blues, is now known to the world for a hurricane that destroyed it’s levee which permitted a massive flow of Lake Pontchartrain to pour into the city like water filling a bathtub, creating the worst-case scenario after any natural disaster in the history of my country.
But the most unfortunate news is that many experts knew five years ago that is exactly what would happen one day, and yet my government never thoroughly prepared for it.
For instance, according to a recent issue of Time magazine, it speculated in 2000 about the city’s future. The article reported that if a category-5 hurricane (Katrina was category 4, according to Time) would come out of the Gulf of Mexico, “it would cause water to pour millions of gallons of water on the city, turning the floodwaters into a lethal soup. In the end, what was left of the city might not be worth saving,” according to the magazine.
And Time also reported recently that the U.S. government’s support for Louisiana flood project was cut from estimated $496 million to $249.5 million, and the state’s hurricane protection project was also “under funded,” setting up New Orleans to be a victim of a dangerous sudden attack.
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First published: September 22, 2005
She has written, edited and been featured in the Detroit Free Press, U.S. News & World Report, USA Today, the East African, New Vision, The Daily Monitor, Vibe, and other trade magazines and newspapers.
Living in Uganda as a resident, she is actively involved in the Uganda writing arena, local church activities, and volunteer organizations. She can be reached at email@example.com.