India’s government turns down disaster relief

THIS week was supposed to be a time for celebration in the Indian state of Kerala, with feasts, dancing and boat races to mark the harvest festival of Onam. But as the waters recede from what may be the state’s worst floods in a century, few are feeling festive. More than a million people were displaced by the downpours. The state government would like to accept foreign aid to help speed reconstruction, but the central authorities are turning it away.

For more than a decade, successive national governments have declined foreign disaster relief as a matter of policy, choosing instead to advertise India’s self-sufficiency. But when the central government turned down a reported offer of $100m for Kerala from the United Arab Emirates (which hosts almost 1m expatriate workers from the state), many flood-victims were furious.

The anger stems in large part from a sense that Narendra Modi’s government in Delhi is not doing enough to support Kerala. The state’s finance minister, Thomas Isaac, claims that it asked for a 22bn-rupee ($312m) relief package from the central government, but has only been offered 6bn rupees. He argues it is only fair for the centre to compensate the state for the foreign aid it was too proud to accept. Shashi Tharoor, a politician from Kerala belonging to the opposition Congress party, wrote that it was “churlish and irresponsible” to turn down foreign aid when Kerala’s needs “vastly exceed anything that the central government can provide”.

Although it turns down hand-outs in emergencies, India is happy to accept foreign development aid. The World Bank says that the country received $2.7bn of it in 2016. But India’s policy of refusing disaster relief is not unique. Chile turned down most outside help after an earthquake in 2010, as did America after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Democratic Republic of Congo went one step further earlier this year, boycotting an international conference to raise money for the war-torn country. Other countries show greater humility. Japan, where GDP per person is 20 times that of India, accepted outside help following an earthquake in 2011. This included 86,400 cans of tuna from the Maldives, which offered $50,000 for Kerala last week but was turned away.

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