[StBernard] WP: Foreign Katrina aid rejected, unused

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Sun Apr 29 14:53:36 EDT 2007

WP: Foreign Katrina aid rejected, unused
Some donations spoiled, while millions still haven't been collected or spent
By John Solomon and Spencer S. Hsu
The Washington Post
Updated: 6:30 a.m. CT April 29, 2007
As the winds and water of Hurricane Katrina were receding, presidential
confidante Karen Hughes sent a cable from her State Department office to
U.S. ambassadors worldwide.

Titled "Echo-Chamber Message" -- a public relations term for talking points
designed to be repeated again and again -- the Sept. 7, 2005, directive was
unmistakable: Assure the scores of countries that had pledged or donated aid
at the height of the disaster that their largesse had provided Americans
"practical help and moral support" and "highlight the concrete benefits
hurricane victims are receiving."

Many of the U.S. diplomats who received the message, however, were beginning
to witness a more embarrassing reality. They knew the U.S. government was
turning down many allies' offers of manpower, supplies and expertise worth
untold millions of dollars. Eventually the United States also would fail to
collect most of the unprecedented outpouring of international cash
assistance for Katrina's victims.

Only a fraction of promised aid collected
Allies offered $854 million in cash and in oil that was to be sold for cash.
But only $40 million has been used so far for disaster victims or
reconstruction, according to U.S. officials and contractors. Most of the aid
went uncollected, including $400 million worth of oil. Some offers were
withdrawn or redirected to private groups such as the Red Cross. The rest
has been delayed by red tape and bureaucratic limits on how it can be spent.

In addition, valuable supplies and services -- such as cellphone systems,
medicine and cruise ships -- were delayed or declined because the government
could not handle them. In some cases, supplies were wasted.

The struggle to apply foreign aid in the aftermath of the hurricane, which
has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $125 billion so far, is another reminder
of the federal government's difficulty leading the recovery. Reports of
government waste and delays or denials of assistance have surfaced
repeatedly since hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck in 2005.

Administration officials acknowledged in February 2006 that they were ill
prepared to coordinate and distribute foreign aid and that only about half
the $126 million received had been put to use. Now, 20 months after Katrina,
newly released documents and interviews make clear the magnitude of the

'Tell them we blew it,' or not ...
More than 10,000 pages of cables, telegraphs and e-mails from U.S. diplomats
around the globe -- released piecemeal since last fall under the Freedom of
Information Act -- provide a fuller account of problems that, at times,
mystified generous allies and left U.S. representatives at a loss for an
explanation. The documents were obtained by Citizens for Responsibility and
Ethics in Washington, a public interest group, which provided them to The
Washington Post.

In one exchange, State Department officials anguished over whether to tell
Italy that its shipments of medicine, gauze and other medical supplies
spoiled in the elements for weeks after Katrina's landfall on Aug. 29, 2005,
and were destroyed. "Tell them we blew it," one disgusted official wrote.
But she hedged: "The flip side is just to dispose of it and not come clean.
I could be persuaded."

In another instance, the Department of Homeland Security accepted an offer
from Greece on Sept. 3, 2005, to dispatch two cruise ships that could be
used free as hotels or hospitals for displaced residents. The deal was
rescinded Sept. 15 after it became clear a ship would not arrive before Oct.
10. The U.S. eventually paid $249 million to use Carnival Cruise Lines

'Will keep offer on hand'
And while television sets worldwide showed images of New Orleans residents
begging to be rescued from rooftops as floodwaters rose, U.S. officials
turned down countless offers of allied troops and search-and-rescue teams.
The most common responses: "sent letter of thanks" and "will keep offer on
hand," the new documents show.

Overall, the United States declined 54 of 77 recorded aid offers from three
of its staunchest allies: Canada, Britain and Israel, according to a 40-page
State Department table of the offers that had been received as of January

"There is a lack of accountability in where the money comes in and where it
goes," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the public interest group,
which called for an investigation into the fate of foreign aid offers. She
added: "It's clear that they're trying to hide their ineptitude,
incompetence and malfeasance."

Feds say they learned lesson
In a statement, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said that the U.S.
government sincerely appreciated support from around the world and that
Katrina had proved to be "a unique event in many ways."

"As we continue our planning for the future, we will draw on the lessons
learned from this experience to ensure that we make the best use of any
possible foreign assistance that might be offered," Casey said.

Representatives of foreign countries declined to criticize the U.S. response
to their aid offers, though some redirected their gifts.

Of $454 million in cash that was pledged by more than 150 countries and
foreign organizations, only $126 million from 40 donors was actually
received. The biggest gifts were from the United Arab Emirates, $100
million; China and Bahrain, $5 million each; South Korea, $3.8 million; and
Taiwan, $2 million.

Bader Bin Saeed, spokesman for the Emirates Embassy in Washington, said that
in future disasters, "the UAE would not hesitate to help other countries,
whether the U.S. or any other state, in humanitarian efforts."

Aid redirected to private charities
Kuwait, which made the largest offer, pledged $100 million in cash and $400
million in oil. But the Kuwaitis eventually gave their money to two private
groups: $25 million to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, a project of the
former presidents, and another $25 million to the American Red Cross in
February 2006. They still plan to contribute another $50 million, said the
Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States, Salem Abdullah al-Jaber al-Sabah.

"It was based on my government's assessment of the fastest way to get money
to the people that needed it," he said. "The Red Cross was on the ground and

In the White House's February 2006 Katrina report, U.S. officials said
Kuwait's $400 million oil donation was to be sold for cash. Sabah said it
was an in-kind pledge made when it appeared that U.S. refining capacity was
devastated and that the American public would need fuel.

"We have to see what we have to do with that. When you pledge something
in-kind, your intention is to give it in-kind. I do not think now the
American people are in need of $400 million of fuel and fuel products," he

Tens of millions unspent
Of the $126 million in cash that has been received, most has not yet been
used. More than $60 million was set aside in March 2006 to rebuild schools,
colleges and universities, but so far, only $10.4 million has been taken by

Half the $60 million was awarded last fall to 14 Louisiana and Mississippi
colleges, but five have not started to claim the money. Only Dillard
University in Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College have
tapped their full awards, worth $6 million, U.S. Education Department
officials said Friday.

Another $30 million was sent to Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines
parishes in Louisiana and to the state-run Recovery School District in New
Orleans to build libraries, laboratories and other facilities for 130 public

'The money should start to flow'
But none of that money has been used yet, said Meg Casper, spokeswoman for
the Louisiana Department of Education. Allocations were just approved by the
state board last week, she said, "so the money should start to flow."

The first concrete program officials announced in October 2005 -- a $66
million contract to a consortium of 10 faith-based and charity groups to
provide social services to displaced families -- so far has assisted less
than half the 100,000 victims it promised to help, the project director

The group, led by the United Methodist Committee on Relief, has spent $30
million of the money it was given to aid about 45,000 evacuees. Senate
investigators are questioning some terms in the contract proposal, including
a provision to pay consultants for 450 days to train volunteers for the work
the committee was paid to do.

Jim Cox, the program director, said that the project is "right on track" but
that its strategy of relying on volunteers foundered because of burnout and
high turnover. He acknowledged that more people need help than are receiving
it and said the program will be extended to March to use available funds.

"The resources aren't there, but these resources certainly are coming," Cox

C 2007 The Washington Post Company
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18341744/

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