/ colonialism / reconstructed /
Naomi Klein lambasts the Rise of Disaster Capitalism, not least but most pertinently on the ruins of the tsunami ravaged countries of SE Asia:
"We used to have vulgar colonialism," says Shalmali Guttal, a Bangalore-based researcher with Focus on the Global South. "Now we have sophisticated colonialism, and they call it 'reconstruction.'"
It certainly seems that ever-larger portions of the globe are under active reconstruction: being rebuilt by a parallel government made up of a familiar cast of for-profit consulting firms, engineering companies, mega-NGOs, government and UN aid agencies and international financial institutions. And from the people living in these reconstruction sites--Iraq to Aceh, Afghanistan to Haiti--a similar chorus of complaints can be heard. The work is far too slow, if it is happening at all. Foreign consultants live high on cost-plus expense accounts and thousand- dollar-a-day salaries, while locals are shut out of much-needed jobs, training and decision-making. Expert "democracy builders" lecture governments on the importance of transparency and "good governance," yet most contractors and NGOs refuse to open their books to those same governments, let alone give them control over how their aid money is spent.
Three months after the tsunami hit Aceh, the New York Times ran a distressing story reporting that "almost nothing seems to have been done to begin repairs and rebuilding." The dispatch could easily have come from Iraq, where, as the Los Angeles Times just reported, all of Bechtel's allegedly rebuilt water plants have started to break down, one more in an endless litany of reconstruction screw-ups. It could also have come from Afghanistan, where President Hamid Karzai recently blasted "corrupt, wasteful and unaccountable" foreign contractors for "squandering the precious resources that Afghanistan received in aid." Or from Sri Lanka, where 600,000 people who lost their homes in the tsunami are still languishing in temporary camps. One hundred days after the giant waves hit, Herman Kumara, head of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement in Negombo, Sri Lanka, sent out a desperate e-mail to colleagues around the world. "The funds received for the benefit of the victims are directed to the benefit of the privileged few, not to the real victims," he wrote. "Our voices are not heard and not allowed to be voiced."
But if the reconstruction industry is stunningly inept at rebuilding, that may be because rebuilding is not its primary purpose. According to Guttal, "It's not reconstruction at all--it's about reshaping everything." If anything, the stories of corruption and incompetence serve to mask this deeper scandal: the rise of a predatory form of disaster capitalism that uses the desperation and fear created by catastrophe to engage in radical social and economic engineering. And on this front, the reconstruction industry works so quickly and efficiently that the privatizations and land grabs are usually locked in before the local population knows what hit them. Kumara, in another e-mail, warns that Sri Lanka is now facing "a second tsunami of corporate globalization and militarization," potentially even more devastating than the first. "We see this as a plan of action amidst the tsunami crisis to hand over the sea and the coast to foreign corporations and tourism, with military assistance from the US Marines."
This seems to describe a reality on the ground. While locals complain about the snail's pace of reconstruction, developers attempt to reclaim the lands of the victims (more on the land grab from the CS Monitor and The Asian Coalition for Housing Rights), Australian and EU aid is denounced as neo-colonialism, while the whole Paris Club gesture of freezing debt is blasted or simply seen as a cynical PR gesture:
...the fact that interest accruing during 2005 will be capitalised and not cancelled is a quite striking repudiation of the creditors self-claimed generosity and solidarity toward those devastated regions and its survivors.
Moreover, the decision on the level of interest rates will depend on the willingness and generosity of each creditor country. It seems illogical that debtor countries need to negotiate individually with each creditor country, says Klaus Schreiner, from the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID), based in Jakarta. Why would a collective statement by the Paris Club be necessary in that case?...
The disaster has proved to be a windfall for the spiritual vampires, who are buying "souls" with aid.
Thus your eagerness to donate to relief funds - was dwarfed by the eagerness of the usual culprits to suck an easy and vulnerable target dry. The IMF is looking forward to the tsunami spurring growth in the region. Others disagree.