WASHINGTON - September 9 - As the disaster of Hurricane Katrina unfolds, it is clear that our national priorities have run drastically off course. The U.S. government spends billions of dollars each week on the military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and has created a seemingly limitless budget for “fighting the war on terror.” Yet it is now struggling mightily to find the resources to respond to a crisis on our own shores.
As a means of acknowledging and rectifying our mistaken priorities, the Fellowship of Reconciliation calls for the cost of hurricane relief and rebuilding to be deducted from our annual $400 billion-plus military budget. This will be a start to redressing the kind of lopsided budget priorities that slashed funding to protect New Orleans from hurricanes and flooding in order to wage war in the Middle East.
Hurricane Katrina’s devastating impact has only begun to be felt. Officials in Louisiana and Mississippi have warned us to be prepared for thousands of casualties and have estimated a million internally displaced persons. A toxic water supply, including an outbreak of E. coli, is the first of many serious threats to the ravaged environment. This unprecedented national disaster will have an incalculable toll on human life, regional ecosystems, and the economy.
Yet our arrogant government has refused many of the offers of help from governments around the world. The Bush administration has turned down financial assistance from Sri Lanka, medical aid and physicians from Cuba, emergency workers from Venezuela and oil from Iran. What hubris!
The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), the nation’s largest and oldest interfaith peace and justice organization, is deeply dismayed by the growing evidence of our government’s inadequate response to this tragedy. We have witnessed how communities of color and the poor, already underserved due to our nation’s history of institutional racism and classism, were neglected in the preparations for and response to Katrina, and were criminalized as looters in its wake. We are now concerned that the government’s support for victims of the hurricane may not extend to tens of thousands of immigrants and migrant workers who do not traditionally qualify for federal housing or financial assistance.
While FEMA and the Bush administration moved slowly, and local National Guard members sat thousands of miles from the communities they were meant to serve, it was left to the goodwill of millions of Americans and international friends to respond directly and compassionately to Katrina. Believing that humanitarian relief is the most genuine form of national security, FOR applauds our sisters and brothers who have already responded, and urges people who have yet to do so to reach out to displaced evacuees in their areas and to give generously to credible relief agencies such as:
Church World Service
United Jewish Communities
Habitat for Humanity
FOR calls on the U.S. government to use this opportunity to reassess its national priorities in order to create true homeland security. We could not afford the lives and dollars lost to an ill-conceived war in Iraq in the first place, and we certainly cannot pay its costs now that we face such a massive task of rebuilding at home. Let the rebuilding take precedence and let’s lay out a strategy to bring our troops home. Hurricane Katrina has shown us clearly why we must focus on saving lives instead of ending them.