Wednesday, February 07, 2007

How Things Work Around Here: Government Emergency Response Edition

As those of us in Angola know- but not many people outside know- there has been a series of torrential rains in Luanda and the surrounding areas, causing horrible flooding. Luanda is a sprawling city, with people arriving daily and just setting up tents wherever they can. Shanty towns sprout easily, and were washed away even more easily with all the rains. Around 100 people were killed, with several more missing. As if that weren’t enough, it’s cholera season yet again, and nothing says cholera like flooding and standing water.

So many NGOs are trying to figure out how to respond to the emergency. We don’t have any programs in Luanda, really, so as an organization the most we could do was give financial support. A colleague of mine who happened to be in Luanda during the rains attended the joint NGO/Government meeting where they tried to coordinate the programming response. Now, I wasn’t there so I don’t know for sure what happened, but I wasn’t surprised to hear what my colleague said happened.

Apparently, the head government official sat quiet through the presentations, looking angrier as time went on. Finally, at the end, he stood up and started to rage at all the NGO representatives, saying, “You call that a response?! You should be more organized? What kind of NGOs are you?”

Then a Portuguese woman, who wasn’t having any of that, stood up as well and said, “It’s the government’s responsibility to coordinate this response, not the NGOs’!” My colleague said the room went completely silent, and the government official just walked out. I’m sure the woman’s represented the overwhelming desire most NGO employees who deal with the government have to tell the government just how messed up it is. But then again, most people just smile and keep quiet because if you do say something, then you have no government help whatsoever.

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