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Role Reversal: Accepting Aid After Katrina

Role Reversal: Accepting Aid After KatrinaAccording to one Tufts expert, the outpouring of international support for the U.S. after Hurricane Katrina should be a catalyst for the reassessment of the country’s foreign policies.

Boston [09.19.05] Since Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast in late August, Mexican soldiers have tended to evacuees on American soil, Canadian sailors have docked their vessels on American shores to unload much-needed relief supplies and nations around the world have pledged support, in the form of food, water, technical assistance, transport, manpower and money. The United States is not alone in the recovery effort, and one Tufts expert says Americans should ponder that fact.

“Hurricane Katrina has turned the world’s preeminent aid donor into an aid recipient,” Larry Minear, director of theHumanitarianism and War Project at Tufts University’s Feinstein International Famine Center, wrote in a Reuters opinion piece. “This stunning role reversal of more than a half-century of aid relationships offers Americans, who pride themselves on their generosity, an opportunity to reflect upon their own vulnerability and on changes needed to U.S. foreign aid policies.”

According to Minear, nearly 100 international organizations, including the UN and NATO, and countries from Venezuela to tsunami-stricken Sri Lanka have offered up $1 billion in various forms of aid.

He pointed out that some of these gifts are conditional, like Iran’s willingness to give the U.S. 10 million barrels of crude oil in exchange for a waiver of trade sanctions. While the State Department is turning down these types of offers, the U.S. is no stranger to using foreign assistance as a political bargaining chip, according to Minear.

“Reagan and other U.S. presidents have often tied the granting or withholding of emergency assistance to short-term foreign policy objectives,” Minear wrote in the opinion piece. “ U.S. aid now flows more generously to Afghanistan than to more desperate African countries and Iraq now upstages Niger in per capita U.S. assistance. Despite the humanitarian principle that emergency aid should be granted solely according to need, aid is often used to applaud or embarrass, to reward or sanction.”

At the same time, Minear explained that while humanitarian aid should not be driven by political agendas, “certain political factors cannot be entirely divorced from the aid process.”

The issues of poverty, race and class, for example, cannot be ignored in the assessment of the Katrina disaster, he wrote in an article for Reuters AlertNet, a humanitarian news network.

“These underlying factors cry out for attention, although the political pressure for change can be diffused by the outpouring of sympathy for the survivors,” Minear wrote. “International experience confirms that when humanitarian aid substitutes for political solutions, it becomes overextended and leaves the structural underpinnings of need unaddressed.”

Minear urged that “national soul-searching on what went wrong” with the Katrina disaster begin sooner, rather than later. That introspection, he said, should “lead to a review of U.S. policies that create hardship and havoc in other countries.”

Once the dust from Katrina settles, he hopes U.S. citizens and elected officials will take a hard look at where the country fits in the grand scheme of global humanitarian relief.

“Reflecting upon the Katrina experience, perhaps the United States will take international law and institutions more seriously,” Minear wrote. “Katrina has lots to teach the American people and their policymakers regarding the importance of human solidarity and of a more mutual U.S. role in global humanitarian action.”








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