Mismanagement of hurricane disaster relief impacts millions, shows political control

The Department of Homeland Security was granted a request of nearly 10 million dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s budget, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post. More specifically, the funds were transferred from those which FEMA allocated toward “Preparedness and Protection” and “Response and Recovery” in anticipation of the exact sort of disaster we are dealing with right now. Hurricane Florence has already killed at least 11 people in the Carolinas and knocked out power to over 750 million residents, as reported by a Sept. 15 Washington Post article.

Hurricane Maria killed an estimated 3000 people in Puerto Rico,  according to a 2018 George Washington public health study. President Donald Trump rejected this estimate, claiming the number was inflated to reflect poorly on his leadership. Trump has maintained the position he held in the days before Florence hit land, assuring absolute readiness and “sparing no expense,” and calling efforts in Puerto Rico an “incredible, unsung success.”

As Hurricane Florence approached, rivers rose and there were several more waves of mandatory evacuations affecting more than one million people. Prisoners in South Carolina, on the other hand, are not being evacuated, according to reports from BBC.

During Hurricane Katrina, almost 1000 were left to die in Orleans Parish Prison cells after prison officers evacuated themselves, leaving the prisoners wading through chest-high water in darkness for five days with no food or potable water. Of the prisoners confined in the facility, 517 were never found and presumed to have escaped or died. An estimated one-third of them were merely awaiting trial. The S.C. Department of Corrections said they have not evacuated prisoners since 1999, citing safety and funding as major contributors to this decision.

It is unfortunately so much more convenient for politicians and business leaders alike to brush aside tragedies and instead use the body count as a biopolitical weapon to advance a political agenda.

— Shane Ostrom

I am astonished to see the degree to which natural disasters are politicized. It seems no one expects them to be because you cannot truly blame another person or country for them, and perhaps there has been an unspoken rule implying the tastelessness of reveling in disasters, but Trump has deemed it fit to lie about disasters and disaster response to glorify his political aptitude.

Scientists almost unanimously support the facts behind climate change and its role in amplifying the frequency and power of hurricanes, among other things like rising sea levels, ozone decay, and precipitation patterns, according to NASA. However, the politicians and deep-pocketed CEOs who benefit from dismissing the viability of climate change have just enough influence to trap public discourse in the “debate” stage instead of the “take action” stage. As a consequence, millions of ordinary Americans are affected by increasingly more destructive disasters.

Someone with a heart may assume that disaster relief is attached to the “unalienable rights” of humans, but it is simply not true. It is unfortunately so much more convenient for politicians and business leaders alike to brush aside tragedies and instead use the body count as a biopolitical weapon to advance a political agenda.

If money speaks, what does allocating funds for disaster relief to ICE say? Even momentarily setting aside the blatant systemic racism that action communicates, a willingness to move funds from an organization for helping people can really mean one thing: they are making money off the masses that are affected by these disasters.

Private companies will work out insurance deals for those who can afford them and make sure that the population is hopelessly dependent on their care. Local stores will likely engage in price gouging as they did in Texas after Hurricane Irma, charging $99 for cases of water and $20 each gallon of gas, as reported by CNN. They will celebrate every minor triumph along the way to boast their benevolence, or simply make up heroic tales. They will allow storms to wipe out the prisoners, overrepresented by people of color, and replace the for-profit prisons with new people to work for unbelievably low wages.

It seems like things have gotten particularly dire, to the point where the vast majority of people are at the whim of only a few — and that few can exercise their control via the disaster response. It is now up to them to turn things around and deliver on what is expected of them as the rest bite their nails in anticipation.

My thoughts are with the millions of Puerto Ricans, North Carolinians, South Carolinians and Floridians affected by Florence.