Hurricane Katrina - A Wake-Up Call for Crisis and Disaster Prevention

Posted in United States | 09-Jan-06 | Author: Dieter Farwick

Symbols saved: Pastor Heinz Neumann with a wooden cross and a signboard of his mission.

Tsunami during Christmas 2004, hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in September 2005 in the United States, earthquake in Pakistan in October 2005, great fires in Spain and Portugal and many more local and regional disasters had one thing in common: The element of surprise.

Some of these catastrophes might have been avoided if early warning systems (Tsunami) and precautionary measures (Katrina) had already been in place there.

Whether or not a disaster is natural or man-made, like war and conflict – many of them could be avoided if crisis and disaster prevention had earned the right political and moral priority that leads to financing precautionary matters.

It was known that the dikes of New Orleans might be insufficient in the event of a disaster the size of Katrina. Fed with the right data, computers can simulate such a disaster. Nevertheless, the knowledge of a potential disaster is obviously not enough to get priorities straight over minor day-to-day problems.

There is a “disaster cycle”: Surprise, helplessness, panic, anger, consternation, media coverage day and night, placing blame on the government and administration, the cry for immediate precautionary measures, punishment of lower ranks, the search for an explanation, readiness to help with huge amounts of money – privately and officially - and the start of rebuilding. Then a new surprising disaster in a different part of the world draws public attention away from the previous one and the “disaster cycle” starts again.

The collected or promised money does not arrive where it is needed – bureaucracies and corruption digest a great portion of the donations. Only at anniversaries – one year after, two years after etc – does the public briefly focus its attention on these disasters.

With a modest portion of the billions of euros and dollars spent after the disasters, some of these tragic incidents might have been avoided or at least mitigated in their impact. Many of the people who were killed could still be alive today. There is obviously not sufficient pressure to improve crisis and disaster prevention. After a disaster, people normally make financial donations to great organizations without having contact to people who receive the donations.

We devote this newsletter to a totally different case. It is a private initiative of three Germans and one American. The Germans remember what American people have done for German people – from the aftermath of WWII to reunification.

When they learned about the disaster in and around New Orleans Asghar Azmayesh, CEO of the Schleswig-Holstein Newspaper Publishing Co Ltd, Stephan Richter, Editor-in-Chief of a pool of 14 local and regional newspapers, John Stull from the Rotary Club of Northfield, Minnesota and Dr. Joachim Reppmann of the American/Schleswig-Holstein Heritage Society started their initiative with the support of the 14 newspapers. They received more than 130,000 euros from people in Schleswig-Holstein and the German minority in Southern Denmark.

Dr. Reppmann went to News Orleans with Richard Esse, a photographer and Erhard Böttcher a journalist to meet people in the disaster region. They met Jim Amoss, Editor-in-Chief of “The Times-Picayune” and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Jim is an outstanding person with a German background. He was an eyewitness of the catastrophe, from the emerging threat of the disaster and during the aftermath at “ground zero.”

All together, they produced this newsletter with the convincing plea:

“Rebuild unique New Orleans!”

Remembering the unique atmosphere in the French quarter with jazz in the preservation hall, I cannot agree more.