Report details US refusals of foreign aid after Katrina
Nick Juliano
Published: Friday July 27, 2007

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A new report reveals the US government turned down offers of help from across the globe in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, telling one diplomat "human assistance of any kind is not on our priorities list."

The report from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington relies on a review of 25,000 documents obtained from the State Department. The report reveals the US was interested mostly in cash assistance and materials, rather than direct aid from foreign relief workers and doctors, after Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast in 2005.

"A review of the State Department documents reveals distressing ineptitude," CREW's executive director Melanie Sloan said in a prepared statement. "Countries were trying to donate desperately needed goods and services, but as a result of bureaucratic bungling and indifference, those most in need of these generous offers and of aid never received it."

Offers to help came from 145 countries and 12 international organizations. The US did accept help from its top allies around the globe, but CREW's report shows it left unclaimed hundreds of thousands of prepared meals, water pumps, doctors and medicine.

Many of the offers were turned down because of a strict adherence to bureaucratic regulations, the report reveals. For example, questions about medical licensing prevented foreign-trained doctors from helping in the Gulf Coast.

"All, The (sic) word here is that doctors of any kind are in the 'forget about it' category," read an e-mail from the State Department responding to an offer of assistance from Argentina. "Human assistance of any kind is not on our priorities list ... It's all about goods, not people, at this point."

A ban on British beef in place over fears of Mad Cow disease prevented Meals Ready to Eat from the UK being given to Katrina refugees. The uneaten MREs were kept in a storage unit at a cost of $16,000 per month, according to the report.

The disorganization that plagued Katrina cleanup efforts also strained diplomatic relations, when the US ignored offers of aid from other countries.

"It is getting downright embarrassing here not to have a response to the Estonians on flood relief," Jeffrey Goldstein, a U.S. Embassy official in Estonia, wrote in an e-mail to several State Department officials. "... We know that what the Estonians can offer is small potatoes and everyone at FEMA is swamped, but at this point even 'thanks but no thanks' is better than deafening silence."

An Israeli plane filled with supplies for the relief effort sat fully loaded on an airport tarmac for more than 48 hours because of a lack of communication from the US, according to another e-mail released with the report.

"The vendors are getting restless. They offered this stuff 48 hours ago, and the government hasn't responded," wrote an unidentified State Department official. "I've been on the phone with the [Israeli] attache every couple of hours since noon ... they're patient, but not amused by our delay, obviously."