Tsunami and hurricane

by John Q on September 8, 2005

Ten days after the New Orleans disaster, the US has accepted offers of foreign aid totalling $US1 billion, but most of the assistance is not getting through because of red tape. The total amount given by the US government in response to the tsunami was $950 million (at a comparable point in time after the tsunami, the figure was $350 million).

As a further comparison, here’s a report from December 31, 2004 of aid finally reaching a city in Aceh, close to the epicentre of the earthquake/tsunami that struck 5 days previously. That’s for a more widespread disaster, in the middle of a war zone, in a Third World country, with few roads, and thousands of kilometres from the countries giving most of the aid.

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Tim Worstall
09.08.05 at 12:11 pm
Outside The Beltway
09.09.05 at 6:44 am



Elli 09.08.05 at 7:18 am

Yup! That’s what happens. If you like stop by and read my view on the subject. http://www.soulkin.com/index.php/2005/09/08/for-the-allmightys-help-dial-911/


jet 09.08.05 at 9:23 am

Perhaps the real difference in what organ of the US government was tasked with the delievery of aid in each circumstance. I have a feeling that if the US Navy was given money for the job we’d all be sitting around marveling at how incredible the relief effort was.


stostosto 09.08.05 at 9:39 am

By noting the amount accepted by the US now and the amount given by the US for the tsunami, are you implying that it is somehow wrong for the US to accept more now than it gave in December? It’s OK to be polemical, but I don’t think there is any logic correspondance between the two. That would be more like a comparison of what the world gave for the tsunami to what it gave for the hurricane.


Tim 09.08.05 at 10:29 am

Jet has a good point.

The Coast Guard’s relief effort has been hugely praised (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/05/AR2005090501418.html?referrer=email), and Wal-Mart had their shit together far more that the assemblage of governmental aid (can’t find link to the number of trucks full of supplies that they had ready to go before Katrina even made landfall.

A clear chain of command is the key difference here.

Now that I think about it, Wal-Mart’s virtues and vices are remarkably parallel to the military’s.


Tim 09.08.05 at 10:30 am

Yikes- sorry for the unlinked ugly link.
The article’s here.


eudoxis 09.08.05 at 10:32 am

Something seems to be missing from this post. How does one make sense of these numbers? What is meaningful about comparing what the whole world gives the US vs. what the US as one country gives to a disaster elsewhere in the world? The most I can make of the first paragraph is that it functions as a forcing for the unfinished thoughts in the second paragraph. For what is the meaning of comparing “a city” from the tsunami to fill-in-the-blank?


Andrew 09.08.05 at 12:56 pm

I have a problem with the US accepting aid from devoloping nations suck as India; there are desparately poor people in India, too. Maybe if Bush would cut the Iraq war short a bit, there might be more than enough money to go around.


John Quiggin 09.08.05 at 3:12 pm

“Something seems to be missing from this post. How does one make sense of these numbers?”

It’s data. Working how to make sense of it is up to you.


a different chris 09.08.05 at 3:13 pm

Andrew, I think this is “valuation” not actual cash. So – totally made up example – if India is providing, say, a certain boat with certain water-borne construction capability (not unlikely given the Ganges) and that boat’s time is booked at $1million US/ month, I don’t see how sending the boat over here hurts their poor any.

OTOH, the US should damn well pay the $1 million.


a different chris 09.08.05 at 3:14 pm

Oh, but despite my reasonable tone this is damn humiliating.


eudoxis 09.08.05 at 3:37 pm

It’s data.True. It’s also true that there’s a straight line between any two random points.


Sebastian Holsclaw 09.08.05 at 4:41 pm

Also I hear that 2×2=4 AND 4×4=16!


eudoxis 09.08.05 at 5:01 pm

For what it’s worth, I think the president did an atrocious job during this disaster. Though, I can’t point specifically to any decisions that he made, I would judge his delay of decisions a problem. I suspect, however, that what most of us are seeing as a failure of Bush&Co. with regard to New Orleans is a result of long-term systemic failures and short-comings in multiple areas. I personally despised his the president’s casual dereliction of duty to the psychological leadership role.

Regarding the bottom line in the number of lives saved, something that should be a consideration in any disaster planning, I question whether a highly efficient response team in charge of activities immediately surrounding landfall of hurricane Katrina would have resulted in a great number of saved lives.

It can be assumed that, theoretically, there is, for this hurricane or any other, an optimal solution for the evacuation and rescue logistics and implementation. No plan can anticipate such a solution because a plan, by it’s nature must be prepared for a great number of possibilities. It is an open question whether such an optimal solution would have saved all lives.

Clearly, the evacuation process gives the greatest opportunity for increased safety. Yet, a massive transport of scared or unwilling, unprepared, or extra needs people is a lengthy process that only works beautifully during drills when healthy high school volunteers play the victims. The curious delay between storm surge and flood may have changed the response. There was an opportunity for some evacuees to return to the city and for rescue efforts to be put on hold. After the flood, all focus was on rescue efforts and with victims scattered and hidden this was an understandably slow and tedious process. Time zero for NO was after the levee was breached.

(I tend to dismiss the event that most people are latching on to as evidence of a botched rescue effort; the apparent delay in getting water to the super dome or convention center. This is not a callousness, but a realization that there is no evidence, so far, that anybody lost their life because of that delay and as the people in those centers have been rescued it’s a non-issue.)

The difference in lives saved between an optimal response and the actual response is not known. Estimates will no doubt be forthcoming. Intuitively, it seems that everything should have gone much better. But chaos is inherently a result of disaster. This is not the same as saying “shit happens”. It is saying that shit is the result of certain circumstances. It’s a result of massive hurricanes.


Tom T. 09.08.05 at 6:41 pm

I, too, was appalled to see the US accepting $1 billion in aid, but the breakdown by country shows that over 2/3 of that amount is coming from Persian Gulf states, with $500 million just from Kuwait. That strikes me as money that the US should be willing to accept. $1 million from Bangladesh seems much harder to justify, but maybe this is a diplomatic damce of some sort, such that we can’t openly refuse without being impolite. I’d like to think that the US won’t actually hold Bangladesh to execution of its pledge.


ivan 09.09.05 at 2:54 am

It’s the same with all kinds of capital i guess. It should go from the rich to the poor countries. Instead on net it goes to the richest country of all.


RS 09.09.05 at 4:22 am

“there is no evidence, so far, that anybody lost their life because of that delay and as the people in those centers have been rescued it’s a non-issue”

So your contention is that the dead people would have died anyway?


John Quiggin 09.09.05 at 4:45 am

“Also I hear that 2×2=4 AND 4×4=16!”

Careful! That kind of talk gets you fired from the Bush economic team.


Kevin Donoghue 09.09.05 at 6:27 am

Actually 16! = 20,922,789,888,000 so there may be places on the Bush economic team for Sebastian and JQ.


eudoxis 09.09.05 at 7:43 am

It’s like saying 20 million tourists come to Vegas each year from all over the world while only 20 thousand Americans go to visit the Eiffel tower. Interesting, but there is no meaningful relationship between the two.


Uncle Kvetch 09.09.05 at 8:03 am

Eudoxis, I would really, really appreciate it if you would respond to rs’ comment in #17 before you go any further. I’m trying to believe you aren’t as utterly callous as you come off, but you’re making it very difficult.

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