Wednesday, August 31, 2005

New Orelans federal emergency money was drastically cut since 2001

One of the most frustrating things about the upheaval in New Orleans is that it might have been preventable. As I mentioned earlier, New Orleans was flagged as one of the top three potential disaster sites in the nation in 2001. More on that:
Since 2003, FEMA gave no money to Orleans and Jefferson Parishes in Louisiana, even though it recognized the flooding risks from a hurricane or levee breach as reported here about four hours ago.

Maestri [the local EM director] is still awaiting word from FEMA officials as to why Louisiana, despite being called the "floodplain of the nation" in a 2002 FEMA report, received no disaster mitigation grant money from FEMA in 2003 ("Homeland Insecurity," Sept. 28). Maestri says the rejection left emergency officials around the state "flabbergasted."

It is times like these when lack of a competent government becomes fatally clear. On a day to day level, assessing and ensuring preparedness for an emergency does not seem pressing, and thus receives little political or media attention. A competent leader will still ensure that funding and personnel are available for a worst-case scenario, even if such preparedness goes ignored or even lambasted by people such as tax-cut activists and political opponents; a wasteful, reckless leader will also go unnoticed should he deprive emergency services of money and personnel. Sadly, it is not until after the fact that these deficiencies become comprehensible in the loss of lives, property, and livelihoods that we are seeing today in the Mississippi Delta.

What's more, the money that could have prevented one disaster was being put into another disaster:
Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with carrying out SELA, spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations, with $50 million in local aid. Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain.

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