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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Lack of leadership has failed Katrina victims

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If there is one good thing about today's grim two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it's that it brings the story back into the public's consciousness.

For two years now, the lives of those who were forced to leave devastated areas of New Orleans have been kept in limbo, due in large part to failed leadership on both the state and federal levels.

Those left behind have dealt with numerous problems. And while there are signs of recovery, there are far more signs of work to be done.

This isn't just a problem for New Orleans, it's a problem for every city and every state in the nation. Given our isolation, Hawai'i should be even more concerned.

Lack of progress in the Big Easy can be blamed on many.

For starters, a government grant program called "The Road Home" was created to help rebuilding efforts. But the state and federal governments remain in a tug of war over how to fund the program.

Approximately 184,000 people have applied for aid, which exceeds the $6.4 billion program budget by $4 billion. More than 142,000 people have yet to receive a check.

The federal government points the finger at local leaders, who they say are responsible for disbursing the funds set aside by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Others say the blame lies with FEMA, which underestimated the need for housing rehabilitation. Both are to blame.

Yes, local government should be responsible for expediting federal funds, but that would take organization and initiative, which have been sorely lacking. The long-standing problem of corruption in New Orleans' politics hasn't gone away in the past two years. In fact, political scandals abound.

This is unconscionable, particularly given the city's dire need for strong leadership. Consider the stark realities:

Since Katrina, New Orleans has lost 22 hospitals and nearly 4,500 doctors have been displaced, according to the Associated Press.

The homeless population has nearly doubled; the levees are still unprepared for a serious storm; two-thirds of the students in high schools taken over by the state flunked the state graduation exam; the murder rate has doubled.

This hardly reflects promises made by numerous politicians, including President Bush, that they would "do what it takes" to help.

Much assistance has come in the form of volunteers and non-profit organizations, but they can't possibly shoulder all of the area's demands.

In a nation that claims to be a global leader, they shouldn't have to.