Like a lot of people I have been keeping an eye on the happenings in China since the massive earthquake last week. I have to applaud the Chinese government. For all practical purposes the government went into action the moment the disaster struck. There was no hemming and hawing for bureaucratic paperwork or fussing over the details regarding the appropriate protocol for helping people in immediate need. It was common sense that the massive quake would overwhelm the local or provincial government’s ability to handle the crisis. Governments from all over the world were stepping forward to offer aid. It was a humanitarian crisis and it would take humanity to respond. The official number of dead has risen steadily standing at about thirty thousand as I write this. The death toll will be changed higher before I will finish writing this article.
I cannot help but compare the Chinese government’s response to their earthquake disaster to the United State government’s response to the hurricane known as Katrina. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security and the office of the President all proved too politically motivated to help all the people whose lives were turned upside down by the storm of the century. When President George H.W. Bush exercised foresight and declared parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama disaster areas, he conveniently left out the heavily African American areas such as New Orleans and the surrounding parishes. The explanation from the executive branch of the federal government was that the Governor of Louisiana didn’t ask for help. But Governor Blanco produced a letter in which she specifically asked for a declaration of all parts of Louisiana along the gulf coast. Despite the lack of a quick response to the disaster, our government excelled when it came to finger pointing.
Maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe we all would have a different take on China’s response to their disaster had there been an area with a heavy black population. Maybe the Chinese government would have held back any aid to their black citizens until they provided the appropriate paperwork through the appropriate channels. Maybe three years from now China will continue to have the affected population staying in temporary shelters and suffering from formaldehyde poisoning like so many people in the wake of Katrina are being poisoned in their temporary mobile homes built with lumber cured with formaldehyde for the past three years.
We already know that the Chinese premier visited the area and gave comfort to the masses in a fraction of the time it took the American President to visit New Orleans. The day after the disaster China had over a hundred thousand troops working to help the populace. It took America’s National Guard five days to find New Orleans on their maps. People existed without food, water, medical care, sanitation, and any hope that their government cared about their welfare for five days. The idea of airlifting supplies to all those people concentrated around the Superdome in downtown New Orleans just never occurred to anybody who could have made a difference.
This is not to say that China is doing everything right while America did everything wrong. On the contrary, China has its own set of problems. I’m sure many people will contend that the Chinese government’s response to the earthquake was entirely too slow. But honestly, as of Thursday morning, less than seventy two hours after the initial quake, more than 130,000 Chinese troops were engaged in relief efforts. Rescuers were operating in each and every county and town stricken. Military transporters and helicopters had made over three hundred flights to either transport or airlift rescuers or relief supplies. Seventy two medical teams with over two thousand medical personnel were in the area. Comparisons with Katrina response are inevitable. But really there is no comparison.